Plans for the first new oil wells in Arctic waters in 20 years have been put on hold. There'll be no drilling for oil in Alaska by Royal Dutch Shell plc this year at all, after operations were postponed all because one of its containment systems failed on a routine test. So now Shell's going to drill several shallow "top holes" in readiness for resumption of a full drilling plan next summer.

It's bad news for the oil giant which has so far spent around $4.5 billion (some £2.77 billion) over four years to get hold of licenses and prepare for exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Investors may not be that happy too, which is music to the ears of Greenpeace which is campaigning to stop Shell exploiting 'the fragile Arctic'. According to Ben Ayliffe, from the environmental organisation they claimed "vindication" and called Shell's programme a "monumentally reckless gamble."

However Shell said the postponement's evidence of how carefully it is proceeding. In a statement, the company said "This exploration program remains critically important to America's energy needs, to the economy and jobs in Alaska, and to Shell"