Environmental Groups Say Shell’s Spill Response Plan is Inadequate

Environmental groups are suing the federal government, arguing that Shell Oil does not have an adequate plan to deal with a spill. The coalition says the goal is not to delay drilling this summer.

The brief was filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage this morning, practically as the doors opened for business.

It’s just the latest suit in a string of them filed over Arctic drilling and it takes aim at the Department of Interior, specifically, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE.

Earlier this year, BSEE approved Shell’s response plan to a spill. Something Michael LeVine says never should have happened. He’s an attorney with Oceana – one of the groups filing suit.

“Those plans are based on unrealistic assumptions, like the ability to recover 95 percent of a worst case blowout,” LeVine said.

For its part, Shell is exuding some confidence even though the suit it brought earlier this that would have prevented these very groups – including Oceana – from brining suits like this very one, didn’t play out as they had hoped.

But officials with the company like spokesman Curtis Smith, are still sounding upbeat and optimistic things will go as planned this summer.

“We anticipated that lawsuits like this would come at the 11th hour. There may be more, and no matter what the lawsuit pertains to, we feel very confident that the process used to review all of our permits was very robust, and that will be validated by the courts,” Smith said.

The critics though, don’t buy into that review. They say that Shell has not demonstrated an ability to cap a gushing well in Arctic waters. A few weeks back Interior approved Shell’s capping stack – which is designed to slow down runaway wells – in Puget Sound.  The groups happily point out there are no floating ice caps in Washington State.

The lawsuit challenges the government on a whole host of laws – laws that were passed in response to the Exxon-Valdez spill. Violations, the suit contends, to the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and others.

Shell has about three ice-free months to begin operations this year. And, Smith says, the company will move forward as it has planned all along.

Charles Clusen, with the Natural Resources Defense Council concedes that, yes, this lawsuit may in fact slow Shell down, but that’s not the ultimate goal.

“Our objective is to prevent oil and gas activities in America’s Arctic until such time we can all be sure there will not be an accident that is devastating to that ecosystem,” Clusen said.

Getting everyone on board, though, won’t be easy, let alone, quick.

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