Oceana today disclosed government documents, obtained pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, showing that ConocoPhillips, Eni and Iona Energy have relinquished all of their leases in the Chukchi Sea. The documents show that Shell has relinquished more than 150 of its leases, and press reports confirm that it plans to relinquish all of its remaining leases except one. Together, the four companies will give up more than 350 leases, encompassing more than 2 million acres. The single lease Shell plans to retain is the one on which it drilled an unsuccessful well in 2015.
Statoil and Total have previously relinquished all of their leases. In 2008, more than 480 leases covering more than 2.7 million acres were sold in the Chukchi Sea. After the relinquishments made public today, fewer than 100 of those leases will remain, covering approximately 20 percent of the previously leased acreage.
Oceana released the following statement from Pacific Senior Counsel Michael LeVine:
“Today we are an important step closer to a sustainable future for the Arctic Ocean. After spending more than a decade and billions of dollars, even Shell has had to recognize that offshore oil exploration in the Arctic is not worth the environmental or economic risks. Shell, ConocoPhillips, Iona, Statoil, Total, EnCana and Armstrong have all left the Arctic Ocean. Hopefully, today marks the end of the ecologically and economically risky push to drill in the Arctic Ocean.
As oil companies exit the Arctic Ocean, there is no compelling reason to schedule new lease sales. The best way forward is for the government to remove the Chukchi and Beaufort seas from the 2017-2022 Five-Year Program. A clean slate in the Arctic Ocean will allow us to move beyond the risk and controversy of the past to work together toward a sustainable future for Alaska.”
Shell’s U.S. Arctic program was beset by controversy, financial losses and near-disaster, including the grounding and eventual scrapping of its drill rig, the Kulluk. Last fall, the company stopped Arctic Ocean exploration indefinitely. ConocoPhillips ended its exploration program in the region in 2013.
The relinquished leases were nearing the end of their ten-year terms and would have expired in 2020. In October 2015, the federal government denied Shell’s request for suspensions of operations that would have had the effect of extending the lease terms. A similar request by ConocoPhillips had been denied previously.
Currently, the federal government is considering whether to schedule future sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Last fall, due in large part to the lack of interest by oil companies, the federal government cancelled lease sales in the Arctic Ocean scheduled for 2016 and 2017.
Statistics, maps of the leases and other information are available here.
Additional information about Shell’s risky efforts in the Arctic Ocean is available here.