Environmentalists, some Alaska Natives and a number of grassroots indigenous leaders were rejoicing on Monday as Royal Dutch Shell announced it would no longer drill in offshore Alaska.
“Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future,” the company said in a statement on September 28.
The decision, the company said, was taken because of disappointing results from and the high cost of a test well, the Burger J, “and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.” The overall exploration effort had cost $7 billion in the span of as many years.
“The Iñupiaq People have been in the Arctic for thousands and thousands of years, living off the land and the sea,” said Allison Akootchook Warden, Iñupiaq Artist and Community Organizer, in a statement from the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). “Today Shell pulled out of our waters, hopefully never to return. This is a huge victory for our people and our traditional ways of life. It is too risky for Shell to be in our waters, where the bowhead whale thrives and takes care of us.”
She thanked those who had fought the drilling—ranging from local leaders to groups of kayactivists who descended upon Puget Sound over the summer to try and block a drilling ship from leaving port—for working to stop the drilling “in our fragile and beautiful environment,” Akootchook Warden added.
“The Iñupiaq culture will continue to thrive as we live off of the land and ocean as our Ancestors have for thousands of years,” she said. “Today is a big victory for the Iñupiaq people, and my heart is overjoyed to hear about Shell’s decision to pull out. Yay hey hey!”
Youth leader Justin Finkbonner expressed some reservations.
“The Lummi Youth Canoe Family is more than happy to hear about the news this morning to find out that Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company is removing from the Arctic, ‘for the time being,’ ” said Finkbonner, a community organizer and the skipper of the Lummi Youth Canoe Family who participated in the kayactivist event, in the IEN statement. “With this news though, I’m afraid that Shell will go to Congress to seek funding from the taxpayers to pursue oil at a later date.”
Indeed, while the move makes the Chukchi Sea safe from drilling, it could mean a push for drilling in such places as Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, according to Alaska Dispatch News, which reported that Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is renewing his efforts to allow for drilling there. President Barack Obama had closed off the wilderness sanctuary to further oil and gas leases earlier this year, even as he gave a green light to Arctic drilling.
Environmentalists hailed the decision.
"Shell's reversal in the Arctic is great news for our climate, the American people, the fragile Arctic Ocean and its iconic wildlife,” said Franz Matzner, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Beyond Oil Initiative, in a statement. “This is also the latest evidence that there's a better way to fuel the future. We can’t lock in fossil fuel production that we do not need and worsens climate change.”