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Big Oil's Dream of Drilling Off the Arctic Coast Of Alaska May Be Ending

Norway's state-run oil company Statoil is the latest fossil fuel company to walk away from exploratory drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast.
Image via Yonhap News Agency/EPA

You can add Norway's state oil company to the list of petro-giants that have abandoned their dreams of finding black gold in the icy white Arctic.

Statoil is walking away from a block of leases it has held in the remote Chukchi Sea off Alaska, announcing this week that the area is "no longer considered competitive." The move as the price of oil is bouncing downward toward $40 a barrel, far below the $100-plus it commanded in early 2014.


"Since 2008, we have worked to progress our options in Alaska," Tim Dodson, Statoil's executive vice president for exploration, said in a statement announcing the decision. "Solid work has been carried out, but given the current outlook we could not support continued efforts to mature these opportunities."

Statoil's decision follows Royal Dutch Shell's September decision to abandon a hard-fought venture in the same area. Shell powered past regulatory hurdles and intense opposition from environmentalists to return to the Chukchi Sea after a disastrous 2012 effort, only to find the results disappointing.

"Pursuing oil and gas in the US Arctic Ocean is too risky and expensive for both the environment and companies' economic portfolios," Susan Murray, of the conservation group Oceana, said in a statement cheering Statoil's move. "The global threats imposed by climate change require that decisions made about important Arctic Ocean resources apply careful planning, precaution, and science to ensure a sustainable future for the Arctic and, in turn, our planet."

Chevron put a similar venture in Canada's Arctic on ice in 2014. ConocoPhillips, Statoil's partner in most of the leases abandoned this week, also has backed away from the region.

In October, the Obama administration canceled two offshore Arctic lease sales due to lack of interest — and Murray urged the administration to take the region off the table permanently.

Related: Shell Abandons Controversial Arctic Drilling Campaign After Spending an Estimated $7 Billion

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