Shell Oil Faces Another Setback in Beaufort, Chukchi Seas

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Shell Oil is facing another setback in its plans to drill exploratory wells off shore in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.  Some Alaska Native and conservation groups have succeeded in challenging the oil company’s clean air permits that would have allowed the drilling to go forward this summer. Shell external affairs director Curtis Smith said without the permits the company can’t proceed with its drilling plans in 2011.

Smith says Shell’s plans are to drill in the Beaufort Sea this summer.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Earth Justice, The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope alleged that the company would emit tons of pollutants into the Arctic environment from the drilling.

Shell’s clean air permits were granted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, but the challenge sent them back to an Environmental Appeals Board for review.  Last week, the board found that the EPA’s analysis of the impact of nitrogen dioxide emissions from drilling ships on Alaska Native communities was too limited.

The board remanded the permits back to the EPA for another look.   EPA spokesperson Suzanne Sakowski says two permits were sent back on Dec. 30.  They are for the prevention of significant deterioration of air quality under the Clean Air Act.  One permit was for the Beaufort Sea, the other for the Chukchi.  Sakowski says the EPA must now review its analysis of the permits.   Smith says the board felt the EPA limited its scope of analysis on the impacts of drilling to air in some coastal communities, and failed to determine at which point drill ship emissions become a source of pollution.

The Board did not approve the complainants request to review whether the best available emissions control technology was being applied to drilling support ships.   Smith says there is no indication when the EPA will complete its review of the permits.  He says Shell has only four months in which to work on exploratory drilling this year.

Download Audio (MP3)