Approval Upheld on Shell’s Arctic Ocean Spill Response Plans

The US
District Court in Anchorage has issued an opinion saying the Federal
Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement complied with the law in
approving Shell Oil Co.’s oil spill response plans for the Beaufort and Chukchi

The decision
was welcomed by Shell Oil, but drew strong criticism from a coalition of
conservation organizations that filed a lawsuit in an effort to halt drilling
until and unless clean-up technology is proven effective and reliable for the
harsh Arctic Ocean environment.

Judge Ralph
Beistline said that under the National Environmental Protection Act’s rule of
reason it is up to the BSEE to determine whether additional NEPA review would
serve any purpose, and that BSEE found that no such purpose existed.

of anything that an additional NEPA review could possible show, the BSEE had no
discretion to force Shell to consider any alternatives to the oil spill
recovery plans and the BSEE could not consider or incorporate any additional
public comment generated by another NEPA review, the judge said.

 “The ruling is welcome news and validates that
the Department of Interior was thorough in its analysis of Shell’s oil spill
response plans for work offshore Alaska,” said Meg Baldino, spokeswoman for
Shell in Anchorage.

spokesman Mike Levine said the ruling was disappointing, in that it validated
the government approach to take Shell’s word that it could respond to a
spill.  “If the law doesn’t require more
than that, then we need to change the law,” he said. “There needs to be a
determination of what the company can and should be able to do to operate
safely and remove spilled oil.”

environmental groups issued a joint statement saying the ruling was just the
first step in protecting the Arctic Ocean from the devastating effects of oil

“The ruling
doesn’t change the fact that, as Shell’s misadventures last year showed, the
Arctic Ocean is no place for rosy-eyed optimism,” they said. “In fact, until
and unless cleanup technology has been proven effective, reliable and benign in
the Arctic, it’s no place to drill at all. It is time for the Administration to
reassess whether to allow offshore drilling in this pristine environment in the
first place.”

experienced several problems during the start up of its drilling program in the
Chukchi Sea last year, including the grounding of a drill ship after the season

The company
opted to suspend its program for 2013.