After spending $7 billion drilling for oil and gas in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, oil giant Shell announced today it will cease all drilling due to “a clearly disappointing exploration outcome.” This means there might be zero drilling off Alaska’s Arctic coast in the near future.
Shell has called off all drilling for oil and gas in the region because, according to a press release, not enough fossil fuels were obtained to justify continued operations. Vox predicts that this could lead to zero drilling off Alaska, period—at least for now—especially since Shell competitors have also backed out.
The Chukchi Sea, the area in question, is known for its tempestuous, icy, wavy, dangerous conditions that all make drilling really tough. Even more, it’s really far away, expensive, and a very messy problem to clean up in the event of an oil spill. That’s why drilling in the region had been pretty inactive since the ‘90s. Sure there are 40 million barrels’ worth of oil in the area, but it’s expensive and dangerous to get it out of the ground.
Low crude oil prices are batting down the corporate drive for expensive exploration, while at the same time incentivizing greater pursuit for home-based oil alternatives. What’s more, US and EU sanctions that hope to help us ditch our oil dependency over global warming fears have only turned up the pressure on companies like Shell. Sure we can’t get off oil tomorrow, but turning our attention in a new direction is key to ensuring the feasibility of oil and gas alternatives in the future.
The good news is, there’s no shortage of research being done, from solar or wind power and electric cars to algal biofuels and hydrogen-powered buildings and cars. The bad news is that development of realistic alternatives is going to be a long process. And during that time, we’re still going to need fossil fuels.
For now, environmentalists can be happy that we might be crossing Alaska off the list of places where the US will dig for that black gold. Still, with all that oil chilling off the Alaskan coast, this certainly isn’t the last we’ve heard of oil companies trying to dredge up those goods.
Image: Activist Kayakers gather near Shell’s PLC icebreaker Fennica as it heads up the Willamette River on its way to Alaska in Portland. Credit: AP