US court rejects bid to halt Shell's Alaskan offshore program

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, May 17 -- The Ninth US Circuit Appeals Court rejected on May 13 a lawsuit by several environmental and other groups aimed at keeping Shell Offshore Inc. from drilling on its Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea leases off Alaska this summer.

Nine environmental and two Alaska Native organizations sued to overturn the US Minerals Management Service’s approval of Shell’s drilling plan. The court unanimously ruled that the US Department of the Interior agency met its obligation when considering the plan and its potential threats to wildlife and the environment.

The decision acknowledged that Shell’s exploration plan is strong and that MMS was justified in approving it, a Shell North America spokesman told OGJ by e-mail on May 14. “Reaching this important milestone means we can continue with plans for the 2010 drilling season and a safe, environmentally responsible exploration program,” he said. “We will also continue to closely work and communicate with residents along the North Slope.”

The spokesman said Shell continues to hope that it can drill on the leases this summer despite US Interior Secretary’s suspension of offshore exploratory drilling on federal leases following the Apr. 20 Deepwater Horizon accident and subsequent oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

“If the safety report to Secretary Salazar is delivered on time and his reaction to that information is favorable, this pause in issuing permits will not significantly impact our Alaska drilling plans,” the Shell spokesman said.

The Sierra Club, Ocean Conservancy, Native Village of Point Hope, and six other groups which sued said that they would continue their effort to block Shell’s drilling plans. “Because the court was evaluating a decision made before the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico happened, we believe that the new issues this incident has brought to light offer even more evidence that Shell must not proceed with plans for exploratory drilling in the Arctic’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas this summer,” they said on May 13.

“With 48 days to go before Shell is slated to move forward, we will continue to press our request to the Obama administration to reevaluate its approval of the Shell drilling plans in light of the Gulf spill and to suspend drilling that we knew was risky even before the massive failure in the gulf once again exposed that drilling is indeed a dirty and dangerous business,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Contact Nick Snow at

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