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Shell Scraps 2012 Arctic Drilling Program

Royal Dutch Shell has stopped its Arctic oil drilling program for this year after a containment dome to cap any spills was damaged.

The time needed to repair the dome means Shell won’t have enough time to deep drill off Alaska in 2012. Instead, the company said it will begin drilling as many shallow wells, called top holes, as it can this season. The holes will then be capped until Shell resumes its test drilling program in 2013.

The company said it looks forward to the final receipt of its drilling permits for the multi-year program, upon successful testing and deployment of the containment system. Shell also said it expects to begin exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea “in the coming days,” following the end of the fall whale hunt and the company’s receipt of a top-hole drilling permit.

Shell has invested $4.5 billion in offshore leases and equipment and fought at least 50 lawsuits from environmental groups opposing the first Arctic wells in about 20 years, San Francisco Chronicle reports.

After six years of preparation, Shell started drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea this month.

On Sept. 7, the EPA issued a compliance order that allows the company’s Discoverer drill ship and its support vessels to emit pollutants at levels above limits initially set in a major permit for the Chukchi Sea. The loosened emissions limits are for the 2012 open-water season only.

Greenpeace, one of the environmental groups that sued to stop Shell from drilling off Alaska, declared victory on Monday following Shell’s announcement to abandon its 2012 oil drilling efforts.

Earlier this summer, Greenpeace created a bogus social media response team, supposedly representing Shell, that pretended to battle the spread of fake ads emanating from a hoax Shell web site, ArcticReady.com, also set up by the activist group.

The hoax site, which uses the Shell logo and branding, criticizes the company’s plans to drill in the Arctic.

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