ANCHORAGE (CN) – Shell Oil sued 14 major environmental groups in Federal Court to stave off the “virtual certainty” of legal challenges to its right to harass or kill walruses and polar bears during its summertime Arctic drilling.
Shell has sued environmental groups three times since February and received two protective injunctions. It sued on Feb. 29 to try to stop 13 environmental groups from launching “last-minute legal challenges” to its Arctic drilling, and claimed Greenpeace had illegally boarded Shell’s Noble Discoverer vessel on Feb. 27 in protest.
Shell sued the same environmental groups again, plus the World Wildlife Fund, on May 2, for a declaration that the Bureau of Ocean Management issued it valid Incidental Harassment Authorizations for marine mammals during exploration in the Chukchi Sea and Camden Bay, on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf. Affected species include bowhead whales, gray whales, beluga whales, harbor porpoises, ringed seals, bearded seals, spotted seals and ribbon seals.
Shell got protective injunctions on March 28 and May 29.
One order established 500- to 1,000-meter “moving safety zones” around 19 of its vessels, including the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk, when they are in transit within 12 miles from shore. The second order added Shell’s Arctic, land-based, aviation facilities in the North Slope to the list of Shell’s drilling vessels, with which Greenpeace and the environmentalists may not interfere.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason agreed that Shell should be allowed to meet its contractual obligations without fear of imprisonment or injury, and issued the orders.
Greenpeace has an interlocutory appeal of the initial preliminary injunction pending in the 9th Circuit, but precedent allowed Gleason to issue the orders to maintain the status quo.
Shell sued the same 14 groups again on Tuesday. It claims it has federal approval for its 2012 Oil Spill Response Plan, has spent $2 billion on the leases under a Department of the Interior Five-Year Program, and needs to begin Arctic oil explorations this summer or face the loss of billions of dollars in planning, permitting and manpower.
It asked the court to declare that three Letters of Authorization extend its “take” authority to walruses and polar bears in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Shell’s baseline studies and exploratory drilling could hurt those species.
“In 2005-2006, industry, including Shell, requested that Fish and Wildlife Service issue regulations authorizing the incidental, nonlethal take of small numbers of Pacific walruses and polar bears in association with oil and gas activities in the Chukchi Sea and adjacent coast line,” the complaint states.
Shell in 2009 asked for the same privileges in the Beaufort Sea.
“FWS concluded that the total expected taking of Pacific walruses and polar bears during the industry exploration, development, and production activities anticipated under the proposed regulations ‘will have a negligible impact on these species and will not have an unmitigatable adverse impact on the availability of these species for subsistence use by Alaska Natives,'” the complaint states.
The Fish and Wildlife Service established Chukchi Sea regulations that were valid until June 2013 and Beaufort regulations valid until August 2016.
Shell said it submitted its request for Letters of Authorization from Fish and Wildlife in May and the agency granted it.
Shell seeks prompt review of the Letters of Authorization and a declaration that they were issued in compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, National Environmental Policy Act an Administrative Procedure Act.
It is represented by Kyle Parker and David Mayberry of Cromwell & Moring in Anchorage, who were unavailable for comment.
The 14 environmental are represented by Timothy Seaver with Seaver & Wagner in Anchorage and Justina Sessions with Keker & Van Nest in San Francisco.
Sessions told Courthouse News the firm would not comment on the pending litigation.
Plaintiffs are the Center for Biological Diversity, Redoil, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Pacific Environment and Resources Center, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, and the World Wildlife Fund.