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Shell’s $4.5bn Alaskan adventure is a comedy caper

Six years in the making, the oil giant’s farcical Alaskan exploration is not what you’d expect from a FTSE-100 company.

“What next? A polar bear attack? Maybe Shell chief executive Peter Voser and his intrepid Alaskan explorers have a secret plan to sell the film rights. You know, produce a rival to the Ice Age series, only funnier. And with a different sort of cast – a 36-year-old oil spill barge, the US Environmental Audit Committee and, unbelievably, blocks of ice turning up in the Arctic of all places.”

What next? A polar bear attack?

Maybe Shell chief executive Peter Voser and his intrepid Alaskan explorers have a secret plan to sell the film rights. You know, produce a rival to the Ice Age series, only funnier. And with a different sort of cast – a 36-year-old oil spill barge, the US Environmental Audit Committee and, unbelievably, blocks of ice turning up in the Arctic of all places.

Whatever, Voser’s $4.5bn Alaskan drilling blockbuster is turning out to be a right comedy caper. Everyone knows why Shell is there: Alaska’s one of the last great exploration frontiers, home to around 6pc of the world’s recoverable oil. But six years in the making, Shell’s adventure in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas is not what you’d expect from one of the biggest companies on the planet.

Take this year alone. First, the ageing Noble Discoverer drill ship sets off late from New Zealand for a drilling season already cut short by the US Bureau of Ocean Management. Then, Peter Velez, Shell’s head of Arctic emergency response, lists a bit in front of the US environment committee, admitting he has not costed a clean-up operation.

Arctic Challenger, the aforementioned barge that’s a crucial part of Shell’s oil spill response fleet, then fails to meet US Coast Guard safety standards. And next, Noble Discoverer runs aground in a mere 35mph wind in Dutch Harbour.

Skip on a bit and you find the Noble vessel finally back in operation for one whole day in the Chukchi sea – before being forced to stop last week by ice. Meanwhile, Shell’s other drill ship, the Kulluk, finds itself unable to drill in the Beaufort due to the Eskimo whaling season.

Now yesterday’s missive: that Shell has called it quits for the year in Alaska thanks to more issues on the barge front, namely damage to its “containment dome”.

Yesterday, the company declared: “This exploration program remains critically important to America’s energy needs, to the economy and jobs in Alaska, and to Shell.” But clearly not that “critically important” – or Voser would get the sack.

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