Groups challenge Shell's Chuckchi Sea work

Twelve environmental organizations and one Alaska Native group sued in federal court on Jan. 20 to block Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc.’s plan to drill three exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 22 -- Twelve environmental organizations and one Alaska Native group sued in federal court on Jan. 20 to block Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc.’s plan to drill three exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

The US Minerals Management Service conditionally approved Shell’s exploration plan on Dec. 7. The company paid $2.1 billion for Chuckchi Sea leases during Outer Continental Shelf Sale 193 in 2008.

US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said approval of Shell’s plan was based on close monitoring of the work. “These wells will allow [the Department of the Interior] to develop additional information and to evaluate the feasibility of future development in the Chukchi Sea,” he said.

But the groups, including the Sierra Club, Oceana, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Native Village of Point Hope, said MMS did “only an abbreviated and internal review” which did not address concerns that have been raised. The company still needs Environmental Protection Agency and National Marine Fisheries Service approvals, they noted.

The lawsuit in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was the groups’ second in recent weeks to stop Shell activity on federal leases off Alaska. They sued in December to keep the company from drilling three wells in the Beaufort Sea after Salazar approved that exploration plan in October.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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