Shell is on the brink of Arctic exploration after the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) approval of the US supermajor’s oil spill response plan (OSRP) on 11 June.
The Noble Discoverer.
The 9th Circuit Court’s opinion upholding BSEE’s approval of Shell’s OSRP is welcome news and validates that the Department of Interior (DOI) complied with applicable laws and regulations in approving Shell’s OSRP for work in offshore Alaska, the company said in a statement.
Shell said it remains confident that BSEE’s approval of its plans meets all legal and regulatory requirements.
The company released its Arctic oil spill plan in May, stating the Alaska program has gone to great lengths to make sure a worst-case scenario such as an oil spill never takes place. Should the “unlikely event” occur, the company’s onsite oil spill response assets would be deployed with an hour, Shell said.
Shell’s US$1 billion multi-year exploration plans to return to the Arctic are fast approaching, after the first vessel of its drilling fleet, the Arctic Challenger oil spill containment barge, departed Washington state, heading to Alaska yesterday (11 June), according to a Reuters report.
Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino was quoted as saying that the Arctic Challenger was headed toward Dutch Harbor, in Unalaska, off mainland Alaska, with an unknown arrival time.
Plans for drilling offshore Alaska include shallow water wells at about 50m water depth. Additional vessels including the Noble Discoverer and Polar Pioneer, are scheduled to join Shell’s Arctic drilling program in search of the area’s natural resources that are estimated to be about 400 billion boe.
On 31 March, the DOI issued a record of decision affirming Shell’s Arctic leases that paved the way for the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to begin its formal review.
BOEM gave Shell its conditional approval on 11 May. Shell only needed to obtain all necessary permits from other state and federal agencies, including permits to drill from BSEE and appropriate authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to get the green light.
All entities involved: Shell, DOI, BSEE, and BOEM have received plenty of criticism from environmentalists.
Most recently this month, Earthjustice represented a total of 12 groups that challenged the DOI’s decision to reaffirm the 2008 Chukchi Sea lease sale that allows oil and gas drilling in a nearly 30 million acres area of the Chukchi Sea outer continental shelf.
Previously, the Seattle City Council and Port of Seattle requested Shell postpone the Polar Pioneer’s move to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 while permitting issues were worked out.
Other protests came from activists in Seattle, sHellNo, and Greenpeace.
DOI, Shell get more Arctic backlash
BOEM approves Shell Arctic plan
Shell’s Arctic plan moves forward
US issues proposal on Arctic drilling regulations