The departing chief of Royal Dutch Shell's U.S. division, who presided over its failed quest to find crude in Arctic waters off Alaska, said the effort was still a point of pride because it demonstrated the company's technical expertise.
Marvin Odum, 57, is leaving the company in a reorganization announced this week. He has been with the company for 34 years and held the post atop its U.S. division, Shell Oil Co., since oil prices were at record highs.
The Arctic was "a big bet," Odum said. "If the oil that we had hoped was there — and probably was there at some point in geological history — in the quantities we were looking for, this would have been a fabulous success," he said.
Although disappointed in the outcome, Odum said, he was still proud of the Alaska project because Shell "ultimately executed a very technically successful exploration program" in an area about 1,000 miles from the nearest deep-water port and as U.S. regulations were evolving.
Bruce Culpepper, an executive vice president in charge of human resources in the Americas, will become the U.S. country chairman and the president of Shell Oil on April 1.
For nearly eight years, Odum served as the U.S. face of Shell, testifying about tax deductions on Capitol Hill and proclaiming the company's support for pricing carbon dioxide emissions.
Shell's Arctic endeavor, launched after the company spent a record $2.1 billion to buy 275 Chukchi Sea drilling leases in a 2008 government auction, spanned several years but led to drilling during only two, 2012 and 2015.
The 2012 drilling campaign was marred by mishaps, from a drifting drillship and air pollution violations to the grounding of Shell's Kulluk drilling unit amid a botched tow to Seattle. Last year, after two months of drilling led to insufficient quantities of oil and gas in a test well, Shell said it would indefinitely abandon Arctic oil development.
The huge logistical undertaking, taking place after the 2010 blowout of BP Plc's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, provided Shell with lessons that can be applied to other ventures worldwide, Odum said.
"A lot of things were changing around us, whether that was Macondo in the Gulf of Mexico or other things that had an impact on this program, a changing of political views and so forth," Odum said. "We were just in a world where we had to learn as we go on some fronts and deal with changes on other fronts."
"If the oil that we had hoped was there ... in the quantities we were looking for, this would have been a fabulous success."
Marvin Odum, outgoing chief of Royal Dutch Shell's U.S. division