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New York Times: Groups Challenge Shell’s Alaska Drilling Plans

Published: April 17, 2007
Filed at 9:21 p.m. ET

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – Five environmental groups and an Alaska native organization said on Tuesday they were challenging the U.S. government’s decision to allow Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSa.L) to explore for oil off the northern coast of Alaska this summer.

The groups asked the federal Interior Department to reverse the Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) February approval of Shell’s plans to drill up to four exploration wells in the Beaufort Sea this summer.

The groups also filed a motion in federal court, seeking to have the MMS’s decision overturned.

“We haven’t had a chance to fully review the appeal,” said Shell spokeswoman in Anchorage, Terzah Tippin Poe. “Shell is confident we can explore in an environmentally sound and safe manner.”

An MMS spokeswoman declined to comment.

Waters near the proposed well sites are home for part of the summer to bowhead whales, which are listed as an endangered species. Polar bears and other Arctic wildlife live nearby.

Shell’s opponents say the MMS failed to carry out an adequate environmental impact assessment in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“There have been oil spills at exploration stages in other places,” said Eric Jorgenson, an attorney with Earthjustice, the environmental law firm representing the groups.

Shell’s application for permission to drill the first exploration wells in the Beaufort Sea since 1993 was made in January and approved by the MMS in February.

The agency found that the activities would have no significant environmental impacts but added 12 restrictions on Shell’s activities aimed at protecting wildlife and native subsistence activities.

The Anglo-Dutch oil major paid $44 million in two lease sales in 2005 and 2006 for the leases where earlier exploration work by other companies had confirmed the presence of oil.

Despite the finds, exploration activity in the Beaufort Sea ground to a halt in the late 1990s as low oil prices made developing the finds too expensive.

Shell plans to use two rigs to drill three or four wells at its Sivulliq prospect during this year’s open water season. More wells at other Beaufort Sea leases are planned for the following two years, according to the application it filed with the MMS.

The company also is planning to conduct seismic surveys during the open water season, using a research vessel that will be supported by a refueling and resupply vessel and by aircraft. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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