Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) (NYSE:RDS-B) announced today that it is putting its Alaska exploration projects on hold, citing preparation as a primary reason for its decision.

"We've made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term program that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way," said Director of Upstream Americas Marvin Odum in a statement today. "Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people following the drilling season in 2012."

In 2012, Shell marked its decade-long Arctic absence with top-hole drilling on two wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. But Shell's Arctic operations have recently come under increased scrutiny, after the EPA cited Shell for Arctic air pollution on Jan. 10 and the company's Kulluk ship ran aground on New Year's Eve. On Jan. 8, the Department of the Interior announced an expedited assessment of Arctic drilling to "review practices and identify challenges."

Looking ahead, Odum noted that "Shell remains committed to building an Arctic exploration program that provides confidence to stakeholders and regulators, and meets the high standards the company applies to its operations around the world."

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