The Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Kulluk aground off a small island near Kodiak Island.

London - Fears are growing that Royal Dutch Shell could further delay its entire drilling programme in the region where the US Army was embarrassingly called in to help salvage its Kulluk Arctic drilling rig.

The 266ft-diameter Kulluk ran aground off uninhabited Sitkalidak Island, about 200 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska, on New Year’s Eve as it was hit by a storm while being towed to Seattle for maintenance.

So far there has been no leakage of diesel or the hydraulic fluid stored aboard in strong tanks, and no loss of life or significant injuries.

But experts say the longer the rig sits offshore, the greater the chances of a large-scale fuel leak that could destroy this protected natural habitat.

A spill would also jeopardise vital systems that provide food for nearby villages.The reputational damage to Shell’s chief executive Peter Voser and the rest of the board is enormous.

It is believed some institutional shareholders have never been happy with the amount of cash being thrown at the Arctic drilling programme.

Shell has spent most of the past year defending allegations that it is inacapable of drilling safely in the environmentally-sensitive Arctic region, which is regarded as the next frontier for oil.

Their ships have caught fire and lost control, while its own spill containment equipment has been damaged in various mishaps.

Shell has so far spent £3.2bn buying leases and on exploratory drilling off Alaska’s north and north-west coasts, but has yet to discover any commercial quantities of oil.

Shell’s other Arctic rig, the Noble Discoverer, can only drill when the Kulluk is available to serve as backup in the event of a spill. - Daily Mail