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article imageShell hoping to end legal fight in bid to drill oil in Arctic

By Stephanie Dearing     May 6, 2010 in Environment
Portland - Shell had won a bidding war to successfully nab a couple of oil leases back in 2005 for the Beaufort Sea. But after a legal challenge in 2007, Shell was forced to suspend it's oil exploration activities.
In 2007, Shell spent a whack of money to secure oil leases in the Arctic Ocean. Planning to drill 12 exploratory wells just north of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Shell was stopped in its tracks by conservationists who argued the Minerals Management Service had failed to completely consider the effects of an oil spill on Arctic marine life. The conservationists eventually won round one in 2009 when the judge hearing the case ordered a full environmental review of Shell's planned drilling activities. The conservationists claim "Shell ... does not have the ability to clean up an oil spill in Arctic waters and ice."
Undaunted, Shell released plans last year to start drilling in the Arctic Ocean, beginning in 2010. Conservation organization, Pacific Environment said Shell's plans were bigger and bolder than its earlier plans. Those plans ring in round two of the fight over Arctic resources, that for one side, are worth billions of dollars. The other side considers those same resources to be priceless and irreplaceable.
But Shell has round two well in hand, with permits issued by Minerals Management Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A coalition of ten environmental groups issued a notice of intent they would vigorously fight the 2010 proposed drilling, and have started their fight with an appeal of the permits granted to Shell by the Environmental Protection Agency. In a press release issued May 4th, "... the groups are calling on EPA to ensure that Shell takes every available precaution."
For its part, Shell has asked the court to "rule quickly," reported the Long Island Press on the appeal hearing held on May 6th.
The head of one of the groups appealing the EPA air permits, Caroline Cannon, president of the Native Village of Point Hope, said “Shell’s drilling threatens to pollute the air we breathe, and EPA needs to regulate the emissions more strongly. The drilling also risks destroying our garden, the Arctic Ocean, which we rely upon for our way of life. Our hearts go out to the residents of the Gulf of Mexico – the spill there threatens to devastate their lives. A spill here, where it could be even harder to clean up, would devastate not only our lives but our culture. It’s just too risky to let Shell drill.”
But round two will take a little longer to play out, because Shell's plans to drill the two exploratory wells in the Arctic this summer were put on hold by the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar on Thursday. The L.A. Times Blog reports Salazar has temporarily frozen all new off-shore drilling, including the Arctic. The only catch is, the freeze is only in effect until May 28th, at which point, the ball is in President Obama's court, and what happens next depends largely on what investigators find out about what went wrong with the Deepwater Horizon.
Alaska's KTUU reported Thursday that the Center for Biological Diversity threatened to file a lawsuit against the government after Salazar issued permits, letting Shell drill for oil in 2010.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1960, and expanded in 1980. The Refuge covers 20 million acres, and the purpose of the Refuge is stated as "... preserve the area's "unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values."
However, when the Refuge was created, the oil and gas potential of the area were studied, and the potential is thought to be excellent, with up to 7 billion barrels of oil waiting to be drilled.
While an oil disaster in the Arctic could potentially affect Canada, the government is staying quiet on the issue. Canada will be meeting with seven other nations this coming June to discuss off-shore oil drilling in the Arctic, as reported in the Winnipeg Free Press.
More about Oil drilling, Lawsuit, Arctic ocean, Minerals management service, Shell
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