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Legal action hopes to make Shell port-less in Seattle

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 08.56.29Article by Kevin McGwin published 26 March 2015 by The Arctic Journal under the headline:

What the Shell is going on? Legal action hopes to make Shell port-less in Seattle

On March 22, The Guardian, a British media outlet popular among the left-of-centre, announced that Shell’s approval to resume its Alaska drilling programme this summer appeared imminent.

Nothing is certain, but the assumption is that Sally Jewell, the US interior secretary, will indeed affirm a recommendation by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a regulator, that the 2008 sale of drilling licences to Shell and several other firms be permitted to stand.

The BOEM, which falls under Ms Jewell’s jurisdiction, had been ordered by a court last year to review the $2.6 billion sale of eight licence areas after conservation groups challenged the federal environmental impact assessment that cleared the way for the deal.

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The BOEM issued its recommendation on February 12, starting a 30-day waiting period during which Ms Jewell was to decide how to proceed. She can accept or reject the decision, or ask to have it modified. The period ended on March 25, and an announcement should be made any day now.

Despite the expectation that she will abide by the BOEM’s recommendation, Ms Jewell, a former executive with REI, a Seattle-based retailer of high-end outdoor kit, has appeared to ride the fence, noting in statements that Alaska has “substantial oil and gas potential” yet at the same time pointing to its “sensitive marine and coastal resources”.

Environmental groups say that it is the latter – and an official calculation that there is a 75% likelihood that the Alaska offshore drilling could lead to a major spill (over 1,000 barrels) in the 77 years the fields could be expected to be active – that she should be most concerned about.

Ms Jewell, however, has described the BOEM’s review positively, saying it struck a balance between all concerns, fuelling expectations that she will allow the sale to stand.

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Should it indeed come to pass that she gives Shell the go-ahead, it would pave the way for the firm to resume drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea, which have lain dormant since 2012, mostly due to outside legal challenges. Federal regulators note that, with the exception of the dramatic grounding of the Kulluk, a drill ship used by Shell, at the end of the 2012 season, the firm’s reputation in Alaska is exceptional.

Shell would still need to pass several other hurdles before it could legally resume its activities. It must also have its rigs in place in time for the drilling season to begin, probably in July. In order to make sure that happens, it has already begun shipping two rigs across the Pacific Ocean. Their likely destination is Seattle, which recently signed a deal to lease port facilities to Foss Marine, a firm Shell has contracted to service its rigs.

They should be there by April. By that time, Ms Jewell will certainly have issued her decision, but the fracas over Shell’s use of the Seattle’s port will still be in full swing.

This week, the city council, which has already voiced its concern about being associated with Arctic oil drilling, sent a letter to Ms Jewell, as a fellow Seattlite, not to reinstate Shell’s lease. Their effort is unlikely to sway her decision, but it plays well among city voters.

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One thing is getting a cool welcome from the city, more problematic for Shell, though, could be a decision by a state judge last week agreeing to hear a case challenging that port authorities failed to abide by state regulations requiring that an environmental assessment be carried out.

The group, a mix of five national and local organisations, argue that the facility is approved for cargo handling. Fixing drilling equipment, does not fall under that definition, they say. They are now hoping the judge will issue a decision before the rigs arrive.

If the decision is in the environmentalist’s favour, they will be credited with causing the storm that denied Shell any port.


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