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Gulf Coast governors defend Shell drilling plan

Gulf Coast governors defend Shell drilling plan

MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press

Updated 05:00 p.m., Friday, July 8, 2011

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are asking a federal appeals court to uphold the Obama administration’s approval for a Shell deepwater drilling plan in the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmental groups have asked the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta to throw out the exploration plan. The three Gulf Coast states are seeking to intervene in the case, saying deepwater oil and gas exploration is vital to the states’ economies and to the fossil-fuel dependent nation.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s office released the court filings Friday.

“While these lawsuits attack Shell’s exploration plan, they could impact exploration and drilling activities in the entire Gulf of Mexico — completely halting the approval of future permits, or action to be taken on permits that have already received approval,” Jindal said in a statement.

The exploration plan — approved in May by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement — involves Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. drilling 10 wells off the coast of Alabama. Shell’s plan, according to the court filings, would use Louisiana seaports and airports as staging areas for much of the drilling work.

Approval of an exploration plan is not an approval to drill. A separate drilling permit must be issued.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council claim that the drilling would violate new regulations imposed in August 2010, a few months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and Gulf oil spill, and that the exploration could harm the environment.

The Obama administration imposed a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf after the BP oil spill. Though it was lifted in October, permits have been slow to flow again. The industry and many Gulf Coast elected officials have prodded the government to move faster, while environmental groups have pushed the government to slow down.

“We cannot let the wrongful conduct of a few companies prevent the safe development and production of oil wells which are so vital to the economy of our state,” Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said in a statement. “Offshore drilling is important to the viability of the state, Gulf Coast region and nation, both economically with the jobs they produce and to ease our dependence on foreign sources of energy.”

Filed Thursday, the request by Jindal, Bentley and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour asks to allow their states to weigh in on the appeals court proceedings because of their economic interest in the outcome of the case.


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