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Shell wins legal battle in offshore Alaskan drilling quest

28th May 2012

One more legal victory for Shell Oil in its quest to drill in Alaska’s Arctic waters

The Government Accountability Office recently questioned whether Shell’s oil-spill response plan to the Beaufort Sea was adequate

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday rejected efforts to stop Shell from exploration drilling this summer in the Beaufort Sea. It also denied challenges to the company’s plans to drilling in the Chuckchi Sea.

The challenge to already-approved plans was filed by environmental groups and the Native Village of Point Hope and the Inupiat Community of the North Slope. It asserted that the federal government didn’t consider the risks to drilling in such a sensitive area, and that Shell’s oil spill response plan was lacking. It took particular issue with the company’s “capping and containment system,” which has not been used in Arctic waters before.

The Government Accountability Office recently questioned whether Shell’s oil-spill response plan was adequate. A GAO report said that Shell’s capping and containment systems “do not completely mitigate some of the environmental and logistical risks associated with the remoteness and environment of the region.”

None of the risks seem to worry most of Alaska’s politicians, however. On Friday, Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, was in Seattle touring Shell’s drilling ship, the conical-shaped Kulluk, which will soon be making its way to Alaska waters.

“It’s impressive to see this rig first-hand and know it will be hard at work in the Beaufort this summer,” Begich said in a release following his visit. “The focus this season is on safety. I am confident Shell will do this right, and it’s clear they have tools to do just that.”

The US Geological Survey estimates Arctic waters hold 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

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