Shell's drilling for oil in the Arctic, Alaska, USA

In 2009 Shell got permission from The Mineral Management Service to begin prospections for oil in the Arctic. This created great resistance from local Inuit communities and NGOs.


The conflict circles on offshore oil prospecting and drilling 150 miles from the Alaskan city Barrow. The prospection was made by Shell Oil Company which during its ongoing project investing 7bn dollars without success [1]. They stopped the prospection when they considered the crude oil prices too low, falling down to $45 per barrel in June 2014 from its peak of $107 [2]. By March-April 2017, there is a renewed attempt to open the area to drilling. The conflict first arose when Shell submitted its “Chukchi Sea Exploration Plan” to the Minerals Management Service (MMS), predecessor to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Shell identified 3 different location for prospection where Burger was one of them. The Minerals Management Service did an environmental Assessment and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact in 2009 which gave a go to Shell Oil Company to do the prospection. They delayed their project to wait out the opinion storm of the Gulf of Mexico incident but picked it up again in 2011. The plan was to drill 6 different wells at the Burger site, one well was drilled at a depth of 1,505 feet and then abandoned [3].

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Basic Data
NameShell's drilling for oil in the Arctic, Alaska, USA
CountryUnited States of America
SiteBarrow, Alaska
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific CommoditiesCrude oil
Natural Gas
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsOne of the six planned wells was drilled by Shell to a depth of 1,505 feet. Low price of oil and gas, and opposition by Greenpeace and the Inuit population led to the project being abandoned. There was new legislastion banning drilling, under President Obama. However, by March 2017, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski said President Donald Trump is interested in opening up new coastal waters for oil and gas drilling and reversing Obama-era policies that restrict energy development in Alaska [10].

Project Area (in hectares)350
Level of Investment (in USD)7,000,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date05/05/2009
Company Names or State EnterprisesShell Oil Company from United States of America
Relevant government actorsMinerals Management Service (MMS), predecessor to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

Government of Alaska.

Government of the United States.
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersGreenpeace.

Inuit Circumpolar Council.
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Development of a network/collective action
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Noise pollution
Potential: Global warming, Oil spills, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
OtherPotential pollution of the ocean.
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other Health impacts
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNew legislation
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The project was stopped because of low gas and oil prices and lack of profitability. There was also social movement's resistance. A new legislation stopping drilling was enacted under Obama, probably because of the environmental movement. The issue is still open in 2017, with Republican senators from Alaska introduced a new bill in April of 2017 to undo restriction for drilling.
Sources and Materials

[9] The Hill (2017), Alaska senators push bill to allow Arctic drilling
[click to view]

[8] The Washington post (2016), President Obama bans oil drilling in large areas of Atlantic and Arctic oceans
[click to view]

[4] The Guradian (2015) , “The New Cold war”
[click to view]

[6] The Guradian (2015) , “The New Cold war”
[click to view]

[5] WWF, Arctic oil and gas
[click to view]

[7] The Guardian (2015), Activists hang from bridge in Portland to block Shell's Arctic vessel
[click to view]

[2] Reuters (2015), Alaska to be hit by Shell's decision to halt oil exploration: Moody's
[click to view]

[3] Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc. Revised Outer Continental Shelf Lease Exploration Plan Chukchi Sea, Alaska (2015)
[click to view]

[1] The Guadian(2015), Shell abandons Alaska Arctic drilling
[click to view]

Media Links

Alaska’s Senators Discuss Opening the Arctic with Trump and Zinke, 14 March 2017
[click to view]

[10] Bloomberg,Opening Arctic for Drilling Is Trump Priority, Key Senator Says. By Jennifer A Dlouhy and Catherine Traywick. 10 March 2017. Senator Lisa Murkowski said President Donald Trump is interested in opening up new coastal waters for oil and gas drilling and reversing Obama-era policies that restrict energy development in Alaska.
[click to view]

Other Documents

Blockade by environmental acvtivists
[click to view]

Drilling sight
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorAnna Bartfai, Lina Dahlman, Sölve Stenberg (Lund University)
Last update14/04/2017