DOI sued in protest over approval of Shell's Alaskan spill-response plans

This article was updated July 12 with comments from Shell.

Nine environmental organizations sued the US Department of the Interior on July 10 to protest federal approval of Shell Oil Co.’s Beaufort and Chukchi Sea oil spill response plans.

In their action filed in the US District Court for Alaska, the groups said that DOI’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement did not meet its statutory obligations to make sure the spill plans are adequate to clean up a worst case crude spill in bad weather to the maximum extent practicable. BSEE also failed to evaluate environmental effects of, and alternatives to, Shell’s proposed spill response efforts prior to approval.

“BSEE rubber-stamped plans that rely on unbelievable assumptions, include equipment that has never been tested in Arctic conditions, and ignore the very real possibility that a spill could continue through the winter,” the group said in a joint statement.

“The American people deserve more,” it continued. “There have been no tests of spill response equipment in US Arctic waters since 2000 and those equipment tests were a failure. Today, Shell relies on much of that same equipment, and bases its plans on the assumption that it will clean up more than 90% of any spilled oil.”

Earthjustice, which was founded in 1971 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, filed the action on behalf of the Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Pacific Environment, and Sierra Club.

DOI had no comment concerning the lawsuit. A spokesman for Shell in Alaska said the company remains confident that the process followed to approve its oil spill response plans was extremely thorough and will withstand legal review. “Regulators at the highest level have looked very closely at these plans; they have confidence in these plans; and if they did not, we would not be on the doorstep to drilling in Alaska,” he told OGJ by e-mail on July 11.

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