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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Shell Wants Enviros|Ordered to Butt Out

ANCHORAGE (CN) - Shell asked a federal judge to order 13 environmental groups not to interfere with its gas and oil drilling and exploration in the Arctic by filing last-minute legal challenges.

Shell Gulf of Mexico sued 13 environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, Ocean Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace and the National Audubon Society.

Shell claims the groups have tried to thwart its exploration of oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea, part of the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf.

It claims the defendants' "longstanding pattern and practice of filing challenges to Shell's regulatory authorizations" have come in various combinations and "at every available opportunity."

The complaint states: "While Shell is not the only oil and gas company pursuing exploratory drilling on the Alaska OCS, it is the furthest along with its exploration plans."

Shell (SGOM)claims the "(d)efendants have challenged virtually every agency approval associated with SGOM and its affiliates' exploration activities in the Arctic," including seismic activity authorizations, 5-year plan and lease sales, exploration plans, air permits, Endangered Species Act challenges, and incidental take regulations for polar bears and walruses.

Shell claims it has spent $2 billion on its oil and gas leases, under a Department of the Interior Five Year Program for 2007-2012.

"Since 2007, Shell has satisfied countless statutory and regulatory requirements and has received dozens of necessary permits from various state and federal regulatory authorities in support of its proposed Arctic exploration," the complaint states. "Yet despite this long history of careful planning and successful compliance, Shell has yet to drill a single exploratory well on the leases in the Chukchi Sea that it purchased in Lease Sale 193 under the Five Year Plan."

Shell claims it must "mobilize ... personnel and resources" for exploratory drilling when the ice clears this summer, and that those expenditures will be "unrecoverable" if it cannot explore in the Chukchi Sea.

It fears its activities could be stymied, and its investment lost, by a "last-minute judicial challenge" to its "2012 Oil Spill Response Plan" approval, especially "if it resulted in an injunction or vacatur and remand of BSEE's approval." (BSEE is the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.)

Shell seeks a declaration that the BSEE properly approved the plan, which it claims it updated "ahead of schedule," after the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the imposition of new requirements.

The plan is one part of a four-stage process of developing the Outer Continental Shelf as a vital national resource, under the federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, according to the complaint.

Shell claims that all 12 defendants submitted comments on the plan during the public comment period, before the federal government approved it in February.

It claims that its plan complies with the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Oil Pollution Act and U.S. Coast Guard requirements.

However, Shell says, the defendants and their counsel have made numerous public statements indicating their intent to stop drilling in the Arctic altogether.

Earthjustice, a public interest law firm that has represented most of the defendants, issued a statement condemning the agency's "rubber stamp" approval of Shell's plan. It also called on the president to "delay Arctic drilling," and threatened to "get [The President's] attention in any way we can," according to the complaint. (Brackets in complaint.)

Five days before it filed this complaint, Shell sued Greenpeace, also in Federal Court, for boarding one of the oil company's largest drilling vessels in New Zealand, the "Noble Discoverer," which is bound for the Chukchi Sea.

Shell seeks declaratory relief and is represented by Kyle Parker and David Mayberry, with Cromwell Moring.

Also named as defendants are Redoil, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, the Pacific Environment and Resources Center, The Wilderness Society, and Oceana.

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