Arctic - ObamaThere was more good news from the Arctic yesterday, when Norwegian oil company Statoil announced it was “exiting” the region, following recent exploration results in neighbouring oil and gas leases.

In a statement the company said that its leases in the “Chukchi Sea are no longer considered competitive within Statoil’s global portfolio, so the decision has been made to exit the leases and close the office in Anchorage, Alaska.”

This is a significant retreat. The company has been operating in the Alaskan Arctic since 2008. Statoil will exit 16 leases which it operates itself, as well as 50 leases operated by ConocoPhillips, all in the Chukchi Sea.

The company’s executive Vice President for exploration, Tim Dodson, said in a statement that “given the current outlook we could not support continued efforts to mature these opportunities.”

Statoil’s awarded leases were located some 37 miles north of Shell’s Burger gas discovery, which the UK oil giant abandoned in September this year.  Last month both Statoil and Shell applied for lease suspensions, although this was refused.

Big Oil’s supporters are worried. US senator Lisa Murkowski, one of the industry’s most ardent supporters, has expressed her concern that “for the second time in as many months, a major company has decided to walk away from Alaska because of the uncertainty surrounding our federal government’s support for Arctic development.”

She attacked the Obama Administration for the Statoil’s retreat. Although low oil prices may have contributed to Statoil’s decision, she said, “the real project killer was this administration’s refusal to grant lease extensions; its imposition of a complicated, drawn-out, and ever-changing regulatory process; and its cancellation of future lease sales that have stifled energy production in Alaska. These actions threaten to undermine Alaska’s economy, our security, and our environment.”

Quite how Big Oil retreating from the Arctic is somehow a threat to the environment is beyond me.

Environmental groups naturally welcomed the move. “First Shell and now Statoil abandoning offshore leases sends a strong message to decision makers meeting in Paris next month” Susan Murray, a deputy vice president of Oceana, said. “Pursuing oil and gas in the U.S. Arctic Ocean is too risky and expensive for both the environment and companies’ economic portfolios.”

She added: “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.”

Indeed, yesterday a group of environmental groups, including OCI, started pushing out adverts (see image) calling on Obama to permanently ban Arctic drilling in the run up to the Paris climate meeting.

The message to the President is simple: Stop Arctic drilling once and for all.