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Originally published January 2, 2013 at 5:31 PM | Page modified January 2, 2013 at 5:31 PM

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Editorial: Rough seas roll Shell Oil’s Alaska drilling plans

Events in the Gulf of Alaska are a good reason to rethink permission granted for oil exploration in the remote Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE bravery and availability of U.S. Coast Guard cutters and helicopter crews should not be built into Shell Oil’s business model for oil exploration in Alaska.

This past week has put more expansive plans for offshore drilling in the Arctic back in a glaring spotlight.

One of Shell’s drill ships got in trouble in the Gulf of Alaska, southwest of Kodiak, and very rough seas complicated efforts to secure the ship, which was being towed to Seattle.

The ship ultimately went aground off an island in the Gulf of Alaska and teams were preparing for a potential spill Wednesday before trying to set the ship afloat.

No oil had been spilled and no one was injured or any lives lost. Credit the skills and training of the civilian contractors and Coast Guard crews.

Imagine the outcome of a similar situation or a major oil-spill response in a more remote setting in hostile climate conditions.

Shell’s permission to proceed with exploratory wells glossed over the details in the interest of moving ahead.

How about a little humility and caution after this week’s drama?

The spectacular failure of BP’s efforts to contain the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico apparently made little impression on federal regulators.

Oil drilling in the Arctic ramps up all the difficulty factors beyond bureaucratic imagination. This past fall and summer, Shell was struggling with air-quality permits, an oil-spill barge, an oil-containment dome and its ability to meet its own schedules.

This week was not a confidence builder for the industry’s ability to design and execute plans to manage spills. It’s all about response and capacity in the worst conditions.

Poor prior planning precedes, well, poor performance. Trouble in the Gulf of Alaska foreshadows what is predictable in the Arctic.

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