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Environmentalists File Suit Over Arctic Drilling

Shell Drilling Rig in Seattle

Published Jun 3, 2015 2:00 PM by Kathryn Stone

Twelve environmental groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling permits off the northwest coast of Alaska.

Earthjustice filed the suit in San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in hopes of stalling the oil giant’s exploratory drilling plan in the Chukchi Sea, which is set to begin July. The environmentalist claim that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) review of Shell’s drilling plan was rushed through and failed to accurately address the ecological impact of Shell’s efforts.

“Shell’s approved exploration plan is even bigger, dirtier, and louder than 2012, including the use of two drilling rigs in a concentrated area and an armada of vessels, all posing a threat to wildlife including whales, walruses and seals as well as pollution discharges,” Earthjustice claimed in a written statement.

The groups have obtained two prior court rulings indicating that the environmental analysis for the 2008 Arctic lease contained mistakes. However, the U.S. Interior reported that all problems had been corrected as of March.

In May, BOEM gave Shell conditional approval for the two-year drilling plan. Director Abigail Ross Hopper stated, “We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives. As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the company expected its plan would be challenged in court "by many of the same organizations that have historically used legal maneuvers to delay Arctic exploration."

Shell has previously stated that it expected its exploration plan will be able to withstand legal scrutiny. Additionally, the company said that it would be able to mobilize onsite oil spill assets within one hour should an incident.   

Today’s lawsuit follows over two weeks of protests in the state of Washington as Shell readies its fleet in preparation for drilling this summer.