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FIRST it was Mother Nature who put a halt to Shell Oil’s plans to proceed with oil and gas development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Now it is the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden announced Thursday his company would not proceed with drilling in offshore Alaska in 2014.

His decision follows the federal appeals court ruling that said the U.S. Department of Interior’s oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea violated the law, with faulty oil production estimates that had consequences for forecasting environmental hazards.

The case returns to a federal district judge in Anchorage for additional review.

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Shell and others in the industry with drilling aspirations for coastal Alaska are getting some serious reality checks. A series of mishaps in 2012 convinced Shell to postpone drilling plans in 2013.

Now a three-judge panel has put the federal government on notice about how closely it will track enforcement of a strong environmental law.

Shell has firsthand experience with the harsh climate that would complicate drilling operations and hinder relief and recovery during all manner of weather and technical emergencies.

Now the court is saying it wants serious evaluations of environmental and safety risks with real numbers — not the back-of-the-envelope estimates previously accepted so lucrative auctions can proceed.

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