Shell, Europe’s largest oil company by production, had hoped its Arctic campaign would be a showcase for its technological prowess, highlighting its ability to operate at the frontiers of oil exploration.

But the programme has so far failed to take off. Shell originally planned to drill five Arctic wells this summer but cut that down to two in July: now it will not complete any.

“Shell has had seven years to get this far, and they’re still palpably not ready,” said Ben Ayliffe, an Arctic expert at Greenpeace. “The Arctic is clearly not the promised land the oil companies have led us to believe it is.”

But some investors took a more benign view, saying that Shell is right to take so cautious a line. “In a way, this only enhances its credibility,” says Christopher Wheaton, an energy fund manager at RCM/Allianz. “Shell wants to get it right first time. They realise that up there, you don’t get a second chance.”