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Shell loses Alaskan battle as court supports whales

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By Sheila McNulty

Published: November 22 2008 02:00 | Last updated: November 22 2008 02:00

Royal Dutch Shell has lost yet another battle to drill the deepest offshore Alaskan well after a federal appeals court ruled government approval of the plan violated environmental laws, writes Sheila McNulty.

The US Court of Appeals said the Interior Department had not taken a “hard look” at how the drilling would affect endangered bowhead whales and the whaling activities of native Alaskans.

The ruling supports a court order last year that stopped drilling – in essence throwing out government approval for the plan.

Shell already has invested about $200m (£135m) in the project and had voluntarily put together a “conflict-avoidance agreement” with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, which bars Shell from waters during periods of heavy migration, which is when the hunters go out in small boats, armed with harpoons, to seek 50ft whales. The agreement also calls on Shell to shut down when a whale comes close to its operations.

But the environmentalists have persisted with fears that whales could be disturbed by drilling and the ongoing court battle has put such activity on hold.

Shell said it would assess its options but added that it hoped to make Alaska a long-term commitment.

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