In April, ConocoPhillips went one step further and announced it had suspended its plans to go drilling in 2014. That led to some industry and media speculation that both companies might be setting the stage for a longer-term absence from the region - that the combination of operational difficulties, regulatory challenges, and the higher profitability of shale gas meant that attempting to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean simply wasn't worth while.
ANALYSIS: Arctic Thawing Could Cost $60 Trillion
A Reuters report in May argued that, "the high Arctic, once the irresistible frontier for oil and gas exploration, is quickly losing its appeal as energy firms grow fearful of the financial and public relations risk of working in the pristine icy wilderness." EnergyWire quoted Lois Epstein of The Wilderness Society predicting that, "On Arctic Ocean development, I wouldn't be surprised if Shell withdraws when they find an appropriate time. And then the other dominoes will fall after that."
Such optimism (or, depending on your point of view, pessimism) may have been misplaced, with FuelFix now reporting that Shell intends to return to Arctic waters in 2014, albeit on a reduced scale. According to the blog, Shell plans to "soon file a broad Chukchi Sea drilling blueprint with federal regulators at the Interior Department. The company will not seek to resume drilling in 2014 in the shallower Beaufort Sea, where the floating Kulluk had operated last year." A company spokesperson noted that Shell had not yet committed to a return – and FuelFlex listed a number of logistical and regulatory hurdles that would have to be cleared - but that it was "putting the building blocks in place."