Shell signals move toward Arctic drilling in 2015

Shell indicated on Thursday that it is leaving Arctic drilling operations on the table for 2015, despite canceling plans for exploration this year.

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told reporters on a call about the company's second-quarter earnings that the legal holdup surrounding leasing in the Arctic doesn't mean Shell is slowing down, the Houston Chronicle reports.

“The fact that we can’t move ahead now legally doesn’t meant that we have slowed everything down,” Van Beurden said on the call. “We are continuing to be ready for a campaign when we are allowed to do so.”

Its a slight shift from his comments earlier this year when he indicated exploration in the Arctic may not fit well with Shell's fiscal policies and work with investors.

In January, the oil giant said it was pulling out of drilling in the Arctic Ocean for 2014 due to the legal issues with the Interior Department's lease sales.

Van Beurden didn't fully commit to summer of 2015 as a start date for resuming drilling in the Arctic, but said Shell will push for permits.

“We will continue to work with local stakeholders on logistics and on permitting to keep the option to drill there safely in the future,” he said, according to the Chronicle. “We will only (execute our drilling campaign) when all the conditions are fulfilled — all the technical conditions, as well as the permit conditions (and) the legal challenges and blockages that need to be removed. When that will be, I don’t know; it is impossible to say at this stage.”

So far, Shell has invested roughly $6 billion in leases and exploration in the Arctic's Chuckchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska's northern coast.

Van Beurden's comments will likely create cause for concern among environmentalists, who on Thursday sent a letter to the Interior Department urging the administration to keep the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific and other new areas off limits for oil and gas drilling in its future five-year leasing plan.