For the past six years, Royal Dutch Shell has been seeking permission to drill in the Artic waters off of the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea. Over those years, the company has spent nearly $4 billion without drilling a single well. The company recently scored a small victory when an appeals board of the Environmental Protection Agency rejected four challenges filed by Alaska Native entities and environmental groups. Opponents may appeal the decision to the federal courts.
The challengers wanted to block Clean Air Act permits covering airborne emissions for industrial operations. The argument was based on the belief that nitrogen dioxide would emit from the drilling operations and pollute the air of the Native communities. Environmental groups also warned that an oil spill in the freezing waters off of the coast of Alaska would be devastating to endangered wildlife and would be extremely difficult to clean up because of the harsh climate of the area, including the frigid temperatures, strong winds, seasonal darkness, and ice cover on the water.
The appeals board decision noted that the evidence presented in support of the argument was not strong enough to prove the claims made. Prior to this ruling, Shell received conditional federal approval for six exploratory wells to be drilled in Artic waters.
Although Shell may face more hurdles in its quest, the delays in the permits and the process were primary reasons why Shell has delayed beginning drilling operations. Executives with the company have expressed satisfaction with the ruling. Shell released a statement saying, “We look forward to continued progress on the permitting front and remain committed to working with regulators and stakeholders to achieve all of the permits necessary to drill in 2012.”
Environmental groups have announced that they will continue with their appeals against the company. Earthjustice lawyer Eric Jorgensen said, “We’re disappointed. The E.P.A. cut corners in issuing the permit and we don’t believe it complies with the Clean Air Act.” Regarding an appeal, he said, “We’re looking at all options.”