ExxonMobil says it plans ‘relatively limited’ Arctic investment

ExxonMobil’s Point Thomson project is approximately 60 miles east of Prudhoe Bay. (Photo by ExxonMobil)

ExxonMobil told shareholders last week the company doesn’t expect to expand its activities in the Arctic.

“Our current investment plans do not include exploration activity within the (global Arctic) region, and we plan relatively limited investment to sustain our existing interests in the region,” it said in an April 13 proxy statement.

Exxon has been a major player in Alaska since the dawn of the state’s oil industry. It has a stake in some of the largest oilfields in Alaska, including Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk, as well as Point Thomson. Exxon also owns a 21% share in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Environmental groups trumpeted the news as a sign that next year’s lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be a bust.

“I think it shows that oil companies are losing interest in the Arctic and recognizing that it’s a bad investment and it’s bad business,” said Tim Woody, a spokesman for The Wilderness Society in Alaska.

The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club and other groups have been trying to make the Arctic unattractive to oil companies, in part by pressing major banks and insurance companies not to support industrial activity there.

Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said Exxon’s statement does not indicate any change in the company’s strategy for the region.

“And it does not say that they have no interest, because if they had no interest, then their assets would be up for sale,” she said.

A tax law Congress passed in 2017 requires the federal government to hold a second lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by the end of 2024. The first generated few bids and only a fraction of the revenue that was projected. The only bidder that has kept its leases in the refuge is a state-owned entity, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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