If Shell's Chukchi Sea drilling operations manage to penetrate underground rock formations in waters off Alaska's north coast this season and don't find oil, that could be the end of the company's controversial Arctic efforts, according to a report from the BBC.
"Our plan for the Arctic is to find out whether there is any oil in the Chukchi Sea," Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told the British news outlet.
"We are in the middle of that drilling campaign and we have to see at the end of the season whether we get into the reservoir. If these results are conclusively no, then it will probably be the end of the road for our Alaska adventure."
On the other hand, even if Shell does make significant finds, it might not make a decision about whether to pursue a project until 2020 (with production coming perhaps a decade later). Shell has previously said that it considers Alaska a "long-term play."
Van Beurden also used the BBC interview to defend Shell's Arctic efforts against environmental critics, who range from Greenpeace to Hillary Clinton, repeating an argument other Shell executives had made elsewhere.
"I think ultimately the world needs energy," he said. "Fossil fuels will have a role to play simply because there is not an alternative available in sufficient quantities within the timetable we are talking about."