Shell’s controversial plan to drill in the Arctic has been dealt a further blow after it confirmed today that the man running its exploration programme in North America is to leave the company.
Campaigners said they hoped the move heralded the beginning of the end for the programme, which has been vehemently opposed by Greenpeace, among others.
“This disaster should force them to mothball the programme completely, but it will depend on whether or not shareholders can handle sinking more money into a project with minimal return for the foreseeable future,” one campaigner told the Independent.
The news that Executive Vice President David Lawrence is leaving the firm comes just weeks after Shell announced that they were suspending their drilling efforts in the Arctic for the rest of 2013.
A source denied the two incidents were directly linked but Mr Lawrence is believed to have been seeking a move for some time. “It has not come as a surprise,” said the source.
Shell, whose 2012 was marred by problems with the drilling project, was barred from drilling in the Arctic by the Obama administration earlier this month until the company overhauls its operation. Mr Lawrence was appointed to his exploration position on the Shell board back in March 2006.
John Sauven, Executive Director of Greenpeace said: “As David Lawrence packs his desk and leaves his job as head of exploration at Shell with special responsibility for the Arctic, he may be rueing the day he said that ‘drilling in the Arctic would be easy.’
“In reality drilling the Arctic is neither easy nor safe. Shell's investors would do well to appreciate that the company’s problems don’t come so much from the make-up of their staff roster, but instead in the flawed strategy of operating in such a hostile yet fragile environment.”
The announcement has galvanised protesters who feel they have won a significant victory in their fight to force Shell to withdraw from the Arctic altogether.
A Greenpeace spokesman said: “the company has spent significant amount of money on the infrastructure to work and drill there in the Arctic, for two years of no returns. The group are essentially haemorrhaging money without anything back.”
A Shell spokesman confirmed that Mr Lawrence will leave “by mutual consent in the middle of [this] year”.