By Ron Bousso
LONDON (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell will press on with a campaign to explore the Arctic for oil this summer despite protests in the port city of Seattle, chief executive officer Ben van Beurden said on Tuesday.
Hundreds of environmental activists have fanned out across the Seattle Bay in recent days to disrupt the Anglo-Dutch company's rigs from entering the port en route to the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, saying drilling in the remote Arctic waters could lead to an ecological catastrophe.
Van Beurden however dismissed claims that Shell's was using Seattle's port illegally.
"The contract that we have with Fos, the maritime contractor that we have there, the lease that they have in terminal 5 we think they are legally valid and indeed have tested it and are ready to move ahead with putting the Polar Pioneer (rig) there, loading it out so it is ready for its journey to Alaska," van Beurden told investors during Shell's annual general meeting in The Hague, Netherlands.
"We have not seen, apart from the protests, any legal obstacles for us to do that."
Environmental groups contend harsh and shifting weather conditions make it impossible to drill in the Arctic, a region with a fragile environment that helps regulate the global climate because of its vast layers of sea ice.
Van Beurden nevertheless sought to assuage investor concerns over Alaska by saying that any decision to invest there "is many years if not a decade away".
"We will only proceed with the real development of anything offshore Alaska if again we can find that we can do it responsibly, economically sensibly and commercially sensibly."
Shell requires further permits to get the final green light before resuming fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, which was suspended after a mishap-filled 2012 season.
Shell's AGM was dominated by questions and comments over Shell's environmental track record as well as the oil and gas giant's efforts to curb carbon emissions.
Van Beurden lambasted calls by environmental activists to reduce investment in new oil production in order to reduce carbon emissions to prevent global warming.
"The theory also ignores the reality of our industry and as a matter of fact it actually risks distraction from the real issues around energy transition needs," Van Beurden said.
"If there will be no further investments in oil production, the gap between supply and demand could be 70 million barrels per day by 2040 ... we will need sustained and substantial investment just to meet the demand to fuel economic growth especially in the developing world."
(Reporting by Ron Bousso, editing by David Evans)