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Anchorage Daily News: Shell asks court to rethink ban on drilling

BEAUFORT: Oil giant says judges were mistaken in halting exploratory effort.

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Published: August 30, 2007

Shell is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its recent order blocking the Dutch oil giant’s plans to drill offshore exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea this summer and fall.

A group of organizations opposed to the drilling has asked the court to reject Shell’s request.

Lawyers for Shell argue a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco “overlooked or misunderstood” significant points of law or fact in issuing an Aug. 15 order blocking the drilling.

Shell wants either the panel or a larger group of appeals judges to reconsider the matter.

Timing is critical for Shell, which has a fleet of costly drilling and support ships on standby in hopes of beginning a $200-million exploratory campaign before the Beaufort Sea freezes this fall.

Environmental groups, Native whalers, the North Slope Borough and others went to court to block Shell’s plans, and they have succeeded at least temporarily.

They argue industrial noise could disrupt migratory whales and subsistence hunts, and they accuse federal regulators of inadequately assessing the potential effects of oil exploration, including spills, on wildlife and the Arctic Ocean environment.

The opponents filed papers Tuesday objecting to Shell’s request for the court to revisit the Aug. 15 order, which blocks the drilling until at least early December.

“Shell has not identified any law, fact, or changed circumstance that justifies reconsideration,” the papers say.

Lawyers for Shell, however, note the company agreed to delay drilling until after a key Beaufort Sea whale hunt ends in late September. They also say Congress has made offshore oil and gas development a priority, and regulators determined the drilling would cause no significant impact.

The court has not indicated when it might render its next decision.

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