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Critics Say Grounding Shows Arctic Drilling Danger

"It's remote. There are no roads. There's no real, true spill response capability like you would have in the gulf, where you have ports and harbors and boats and fishing boats and vessels everywhere," she said.

Shell has said its preparations will allow it to operate safely far from the Coast Guard base. Like a backcountry camper, Shell has promised to carry all the response equipment needed to the isolated drilling sites: a fleet of more than 20 response vessels that could respond in either the Beaufort of the Chukchi.

Shell spokesman Smith said the company remains confident in its ability to operate safely.

"We encountered severe weather basically all summer long in the Arctic," he said. "While it was challenging, the personnel and the assets and the rigs performed very well."

When a massive ice flow moved toward the drill ship operating in the Chukchi after less than a day of drilling, Shell released the vessel from anchors and moved out of the way.

"As disappointing as that was, given how long we had waited to start drilling â¿¿ we were only a day in â¿¿ we had the time and made the decision to disconnect from anchors and safely move off," Smith said. "That's how responsible operators work in the Arctic, or anywhere, really."

The Aiviq has towed the Kulluk more than 4,000 miles and experienced conditions seen before the grounding, Smith said. It was no accident, Smith said, that additional vessels were standing by in Seward.

It's too soon to know what led to the grounding, Smith said, but the failure of the Aiviq's engines for a time after the initial separation and the inability to re-establish an ideal tow connection were factors.

"It's clear that a sequence of unlikely events compounded over a short period of time, underscored by the complete loss of power to the engines of the Aiviq," he said.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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