Shell: We’re ready to drill in Arctic Ocean

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By William Mccall | The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Oregon – Shell Oil is ready to drill in the Arctic Ocean this summer and asked a federal appeals court Thursday to rule quickly on a challenge by environmentalists concerned about the risk of a major spill after the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Kathleen Sullivan, an attorney for Shell, said the company has spent at least $3.5 billion on Alaska operations in the past few years as it prepares for exploratory drilling set for July in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

“Shell has waited years to recover its investment,” Sullivan told a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland. “We’re ready to go.”

“I’m sure Shell would like to win,” replied Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

But a coalition of environmentalists and Native Alaska groups who are challenging the drilling plans told the court the federal Minerals Management Service failed to consider the potential threat to wildlife and the risk for disaster before it approved the Shell project.

Christopher Winter, an attorney for the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, said the Interior Department agency “simply ignored key aspects” about the possible effects of drilling operations on bowhead whales, including interruption of feeding patterns.

David Shilton, a Justice Department lawyer representing the minerals service, responded by saying studies have shown noise from drilling has only a “temporary and minor” effect on the whales, whose population is healthy and has been increasing.

Deirdre McDonnell, the attorney for the Native Village of Point Hope in Alaska, the lead petitioners in the case, argued that Shell had not made adequate plans to deal with an emergency, such as a major spill.

The Shell plan, for example, “doesn’t say what happens if the drill ship is disabled or has sunk,” McDonnell told the judges.

She also said government did not consider the cumulative impact of drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

Sullivan argued, however, the government must consider the facts at hand rather than “speculative” future impact and Shell has made extensive plans that include dealing with “the remote and infinitesimal likelihood of a spill.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced last December the Minerals Management Service had conditionally approved plans by Shell to drill three exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea, saying environmentally responsible exploration is a key component of reducing dependence on foreign oil.

Conditional approval for exploration in the Beaufort Sea came last October, as part of the development of oil leases sold under the Bush administration and upheld by the Obama administration in March.

Although the appeals court hearing had been scheduled before the Gulf Oil spill and arguments did not involve it, the environmental coalition has been making comparisons in public statements about the case.

Original article here

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