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Conoco halts offshore drilling in Alaskan Arctic

A view of a ConocoPhillips oil refinery in Trainer, Pennsylvania on May 1, 2012
A view of a ConocoPhillips oil refinery in Trainer, Pennsylvania on May 1, 2012. US oil giant ConocoPhillips on Wednesday announced it is suspending its offshore Alaska drilling program in the Alaskan Arctic due to changing regulations.

US oil giant ConocoPhillips on Wednesday announced it is suspending its offshore Alaska drilling program in the Alaskan Arctic due to changing regulations.

Two months after a similar move by Shell, ConocoPhillips cited "evolving" federal regulatory requirements in putting on hold its 2014 exploration drilling plans in the Chukchi Sea on Alaska's northern coast.

"While we are confident in our own expertise and ability to safely conduct offshore Arctic operations, we believe that more time is needed to ensure that all regulatory stakeholders are aligned," said Trond-Erik Johansen, president of ConocoPhillips Alaska, in a statement.

A ConocoPhillips spokeswoman said the company had faced changing standards in the permitting process for the Chukchi Sea.

The company will continue to work in the onshore National Petroleum Reserve adjacent to the Chuckchi Sea, she said, where permitting standards are "generally stable."

Conoco had planned to drill its first Chukchi well in 2014.

The retreat follows a similar move by Anglo-Dutch giant Shell, which in February suspended its drilling plans in the Alaskan Arctic through 2013, following multiple embarrassing problems with its two drilling rigs.

Shell said additional time was needed to ensure drilling could be executed in a "safe and measured way."

Conoco pledged to work with federal officials and other leaseholders to establish a regulatory structure for safe offshore oil and gas exploration in Alaska.

Offshore oil exploration in the United States has faced higher scrutiny in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last September, Total chief executive Christophe de Margerie turned heads when he said some Arctic drilling should be off-limits because of the risk of a spill.

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