Shell Requests Declaratory Judgment On Arctic Spill Response Plan

Shell Alaska has taken an unusual step in asking a federal court Wednesday for a declaratory judgment on their Arctic spill response plan that was approved by the department of Interior in February. Shell is seeking this judgment against a number of environmental and conservation groups in an effort to end run the litigation that will likely challenge the process that was used to approve their plan. Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith says the company wants a judge to consider sooner rather than later the merits of the spill response plan approval process.

“We filed a very narrow scope, talking about the process itself, it’s possible the merits of the plan itself will be challenged but that will likely come in another court and it’s my understanding that that has already been taken up by another court in California.”

Smith says if a federal judge agrees to review the plan and issue a decision, it has the potential to bind future litigation in that court.

Shell’s court filing names several organizations including the Sierra Club, Green Peace and The Alaska Wilderness League.

“There are a number of opposition groups named and historically those are the opposition groups that have used the courts as a stall tactic and if nothing else, we have no intention of sitting back and waiting for that to happen.”

Smith says Shell’s preemptive move does not prohibit challenges to the permits, but may limit the company’s exposure to last minute injunctions and 11th hour challenges he says, is what they want to avoid.

“And those have the potential to derail our plans and we have very small windows in which we can work, so to add any possible certainty to our program, we’ve filed this judgement in hopes that we can have that last second certainty, in other words, our message is very simple, if you have any issues with the approval of Shell’s permits, lets talk about these issues in court, right now.”

The petition was filed in U.S District court in Anchorage. A call to Alaska Wilderness League attorney Peter Van Tuyn was not returned by air time.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori