Shell has temporarily halted its oil drilling operations in the Arctic [Credit: Greenpeace]

Shell's Arctic drilling a 'mistake of epic proportions'

Shell's bid to drill for oil in the Arctic is a "mistake of epic proportions", environmental campaign Greenpeace has claimed, after the oil giant announced it was halting exploration in the region this year.

Greenpeace, which has led a high-profile campaign against oil exploration in the Arctic, said other oil companies should now conclude that the Arctic is "too remote, too hostile and too iconic" to drill for fossil fuels.

The environmental group welcomed the news that Shell was halting operations in the Alaskan Arctic in 2014, which came as the company reported a 48 per cent slide in profits.

The move follows opposition from a federal appeals court in the US, which ruled that the government conducted a flawed environmental review before granting leases for drilling by oil companies, of which Shell was the leading bidder in 2008.

The company spent £1.3 billion on leases for the Chukchi Sea, off Alaska's north west coast, and has spent £3 billion on Arctic offshore development.

But the company has experienced problems in the challenging conditions of the Arctic, including a drill vessel running aground as it was being towed across the Gulf of Alaska, and chose not to drill in 2013.

Greenpeace has been vigorously campaigning against efforts to exploit fossil fuels in the Arctic, employing a variety of methods to raise the issue in the public consciousness. A team of six female climbers scaled the Shard in London to protest against Shell's involvement in Arctic regions; two remote-control banners were unfurled in front of the winner's podium at a Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix event in August 2013, and most recently the 30-strong crew of Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise were detained in jail by Russian security services over a protest against oil giant Gazprom, with whom Shell has a partnership to drill in the Russian Arctic. Despite the non-violent nature of the protests, the 30 campaigners were charged first with piracy and later with hooliganism before being released in an amnesty after international outcry against the heavy-handed response.

Greenpeace is concerned that oil spills will harm the fragile environment of the Arctic and any exploration will worsen the problem of climate change by exploiting new sources of fossil fuels that will push up greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace International Arctic oil campaigner Charlie Kronick said, "Shell's decision to gamble on the Arctic was a mistake of epic proportions. The company has spent huge amounts of time and money on a project that has delivered nothing apart from bad publicity and a reputation for incompetence."

Kronick maintains that the "only wise decision" was for new Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden to cut the company's losses and scrap any future plans to drill in the Arctic ocean.

"Shell's Arctic failure is being watched closely by other oil companies, who must now conclude that this region is too remote, too hostile and too iconic to be worth exploring," Kronick said. "In an era of declining profits, increasing costs and unprecedented levels of public scrutiny, the Arctic is simply not worth the risk. Millions of people around the world have helped to shine a light on Arctic drilling and this has started to affect Shell's brand.

"We will continue to increase this pressure as long as the company continues its stubborn pursuit of the fragile Arctic environment. This is one of the defining environmental issues of our time. We are drawing a line in the ice here to say to these oil companies 'You come no further'."

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