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Environmentalists challenge Shell's Arctic ambitions again

Alex DeMarban

Environmentalists and an Alaska Native group fighting Shell Oil's offshore drilling plans in the Arctic are headed back to court, this time to challenge an air permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency for Shell's drill fleet led by the Noble Discoverer.

Claiming that "tens of thousands of tons of pollution" such as black carbon will further melt snow and sea ice in a delicate ecosystem already suffering from climate change, the group announced it had filed a lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Shell officials say the company is using advanced technology to control emissions, and plans to burn ultra-low-sulfur diesel when operating the Noble Discoverer. A spokesperson for the group could not immediately be reached.

Groups bringing this latest courtroom fight are Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environment Center, Oceana, Pacific Environment, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society. They're represented by Earthjustice.

The groups want an expedited review from the court in hopes that better technology to reduce air emissions can be deployed before exploratory drilling begins this summer, said Chris Krenz, Arctic program manager for Oceana. The groups have not asked for an injunction, which, if granted, could suspend drilling this summer.

The air permits previously were challenged at the Environmental Appeals Board, leading to a review process that Shell said was instrumental in delaying exploratory drilling plans last summer. Those appeals were overturned, leading EPA to issue the permits earlier this year.

The environmental group Oceana warned last week that it and other groups still had legal options to pursue before drilling occurs.

Other lawsuits are in play, said Krenz, who noted that because the plaintiffs don't believe their concerns are being addressed, the only meaningful option is the courts.

The groups can appeal a recent decision by federal Judge Ralph Beistline allowing the Chukchi lease sale, called Lease Sale 193, to proceed. Groups are also challenging the Interior Department's decision approving Shell's exploration-plan permits in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Oceana and the others are also considering whether to challenge Shell's Chukchi spill response plan, recently approved by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Read more about the newest lawsuit here.