Courthouse News Service
By PURNA NEMANI
ANCHORAGE (CN) – Shell oil sued 13 leading environmental groups, seeking a Federal Court order declaring it legally authorized to proceed with Arctic Ocean drilling this summer, despite the groups’ complaints.
An Anchorage federal judge in March granted Shell a protective order preventing Greenpeace from interfering in Shell’s plans to explore offshore oil and gas leases in the Arctic.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason granted Shell’s request two days after Greenpeace members boarded its drilling vessel, the Noble Discoverer, to protest and try to prevent it from drilling in the Arctic.
Shell said it needed the court order to prevent Greenpeace from boarding its drilling vessels or entering safety zones, so the oil company can meet its contractual obligations without fear of imprisonment or injury.
Shell established 500- to 1,000-meter “moving safety zones” around 19 of its vessels, including the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk, when they are in transit within 12 miles from shore.
Greenpeace may not break into or trespass on the vessels, interfere with their movement or operation, or threaten Shell employees on the vessels. The order is effective until October.
Shell claims it obtained federal approval for its 2012 Oil Spill Response Plan, and needs to begin explorations this summer or face the loss of billions of dollars in planning, permitting and manpower.
It filed a second complaint last week, to try to stop prevent 12 other environmental groups from launching “last-minute legal challenges” to its drilling.
In the new complaint Shell Gulf of Mexico and Shell Offshore seeks declaratory judgment that the federal government properly approved its Oil Spill Response Plan, despite defendants’ claims of improper protections for endangered polar bears and walruses, incidental take permits for those species, authorizations for seismic activities, air pollution permits, and the leases themselves.
Shell claims it has spent $2 billion on the leases, under a Department of the Interior Five Year Program.
Defendants in the new complaint include the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Sierra Club, the Ocean Conservancy, the National Audubon Society, and others.
“This action seeks a declaration regarding agency issuance of two IHAs [incidental harassment authorization], the first authorizes harassment of marine mammals incidental to SGOMI’s operations under its Revised Chukchi Sea Exploration Plan … approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on December 16, 2011, and the second authorizes harassment of marine mammals exploration incidental to SOI’s operations under its Revised Camden Bay Exploration Plan … approved by BOEM on August 4, 2011. All operations will take place on the Alaskan OCS [Outer Continental Shelf].”
Shell claims its Arctic drilling “will have negligible impact on the species” of whales, porpoises and seals for which the IHA was issued, and that its drilling “will not have an unmitigatable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stock for taking for subsistence uses.”
Those species include bowhead whales, gray whales, beluga whales, harbor porpoises, ringed seals, bearded seals, spotted seals and ribbon seals.
Shell is represented by Kyle Parker and David Mayberry, with Cromwell & Moring, of Anchorage.
COURT DOCUMENT COMPLAINT LODGED BY SHELL ON 2 MAY 2012