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Associated Press: Groups seek halt to Shell drilling in Beaufort Sea

EXPLORATION: Critics say wells threaten resources for Native subsistence.

By DAN JOLING
Published: April 17, 2007

ANCHORAGE — Native American and conservation groups on Monday appealed a federal government decision to approve Shell Oil’s exploration plan for the Beaufort Sea.

The groups want to halt Shell exploration activities off the north coast of Alaska that are scheduled to begin in June.

Shell Exploration & Production Co., part of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, in 2005 spent more than $44 million for 84 offshore leases in the Beaufort Sea.

The Mineral Management Service in February approved an outer continental shelf exploration plan submitted by Shell Offshore Inc. Shell proposed to drill up to 12 exploration wells on 12 tracts over three years, including four exploration wells this summer, according to the appeal.

The Mineral Management Service’s environmental assessment determined the proposed exploration “would not significantly affect the quality of the human environment.”

Three groups filed an appeal Monday to halt Shell’s plan. They include Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands, or REDOIL, a network of indigenous organizations; the Center for Biological Diversity; and the Sierra Club.

“Shell’s plans could potentially devastate the subsistence resources of the North Slope,” said Faith Gemmill of Fairbanks, REDOIL’s outreach coordinator in Alaska.

Residents of Alaska’s North Slope are concerned both with the potential for spills and with harm that would accompany industrial activity, she said.

The groups filed an appeal with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals in Anchorage. If the board rejects the appeal, the groups requested immediate judicial review.

Shell officials did not immediately return a phone call Monday.

The agency did not provide adequate time for public comment on its environmental review, according to the appeal.

According to the groups, the Mineral Management Service, part of the interior department, failed to consider the potential effects from a crude-oil spill during exploration.

“Such a spill could have catastrophic effects on the environment and resources in the Beaufort Sea,” the groups said in their appeal, including wildlife such as polar bears, bowhead whales, walrus and other marine mammals.

Brendan Cummings, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the lease area is off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which could be affected by a spill.

Gemmill said subsistence hunters and fishermen also worry that birds and animals will be affected by industrial activity. Bowhead whales, she said, could be deflected away from hunters by drilling noise.

Other subsistence activities, such as fishing and hunting for caribou, walrus and waterfowl, could be adversely affected by offshore drilling and the air and marine operations needed to support it, the groups said. Two threatened species, spectacled and Steller’s eiders, also could be disturbed.

The groups also said aircraft and ships would harm the sea’s wilderness qualities.

 

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