Shell's much-protested plans for Arctic oil exploration off Alaska have already come to a halt for the year. After initial technical mishaps, including a ship breaking free of its mooring and potentially running aground, apparently a dome designed to help clean up any potential oil spills was damaged.
The time required to repair the dome, along with steps we have taken to protect local whaling operations and to ensure the safety of operations from ice floe movement, have led us to revise our plans for the 2012-2013 exploration program. In order to lay a strong foundation for operations in 2013, we will forgo drilling into hydrocarbon zones this year.
Greenpeace, which has been leading the charge to protest and hopefully prevent Shell's Arctic drilling operations, is claiming the halt as a victory.
"You did it," Greenpeace's statement to supporters begins. "For over six months, huge numbers of us have been pressuring Shell to stay out of the Arctic...This morning company bosses announced they were scrapping their oil drilling program for this year. It's a huge victory for people power."
Indirectly, of course—Greenpeace actions have certainly brought attention on Shell that otherwise might not be there. But in any direct way it's very difficult to say that "people power" really stopped Shell.
Drilling offshore in Arctic waters off Alaska is technically challenging, to say the least. Conditions are so difficult in fact that the head of the US Coast Guard testified before Congress, prior to Shell being given the go ahead by the Obama administration, saying that should an oil spill occur in icy waters we have no way of cleaning it up. Let that sink in, should an oil spill occur (really, when an oil spill happens...) in icy waters of the Arctic, we really can't clean it up at all.