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Shell Sues Environmentalists to Avert Alaska Arctic-Drilling Delays

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HOUSTON -- Royal Dutch Shell PLC is suing in federal court more than a dozen environmental organizations that are likely to challenge its plans for drilling Alaska's Arctic Ocean this summer, an unprecedented preemptive move aimed at avoiding potentially costly delays.

The oil company filed a petition Tuesday for declaratory relief in the U.S. District Court in Anchorage, Alaska, asking the court to rule that federal regulators complied with the law last month when they approved Shell's oil-spill-response plan for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea. Drilling in the area is scheduled to start in July.

The suit names the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and 10 other organizations that oppose drilling in the Arctic or believe Shell's oil response plan is insufficient. These organizations have filed lawsuits and appeals in the past challenging the U.S. offshore leasing program offshore Alaska.

"Forcing [Shell] to wait until the last-minute challenge these defendants are sure to make creates tremendous uncertainty regarding [Shell]'s ability to proceed with its approved exploration activities in the Chukchi Sea in 2012," the company said. "Rather than await the inevitable last-minute challenge, [Shell] affirmatively brings this declaratory judgment action so that it may expeditiously receive judicial review."

The action, which Shell and legal experts said is unprecedented, doesn't seek to restrict the environmental organizations from challenging the company's oil spill plans, but to make sure any challenges occur "sooner, rather than later," the company said.

Some of the environmental organizations being sued said Shell is trying to short-circuit their right to review the oil-spill-response plan and suppress public participation in the process.

"It's a case that doesn't have substance under federal law," said David Pettit, a senior attorney with the Natural Resource Defense Council. "We will file a motion to dismiss and we expect to win quickly."

Independent legal experts said Shell's move won't necessarily speed up the legal process or guarantee the company can start drilling on schedule.

Jamison Colburn, professor of law at Penn State University, said Shell has a slim chance to win the case because federal law already defines the process to challenge and review permits.

Even if Shell wins the case, defendants can file a challenge to the company's drilling plans in other district courts, and organizations that weren't named as defendants could file their own lawsuits, said Tracy Hester, a environmental law professor at the University of Houston. "This doesn't offer a rosy picture for a clear judicial ruling that will allow drilling to proceed on schedule this summer," Hester said.

But Shell could benefit even if the case is dismissed. Losing the petition for declaratory relief gives Shell a powerful reason to ask Congress or the Obama administration for some type of intervention or relief, Hester said.

Shell said it already has invested more than $4 billion purchasing leases in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea, in 2005 and 2008, respectively, without being able to drill a single well. Both areas are considered among the last frontier areas in North America with potential to hold significant source for oil and gas. The leases have an expiration term of 10 years.

"With time running out on a multi-billion [dollar] lease, it's not surprising Shell is pulling all the stops," Hester said.

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Post a Comment Generated by readers, the comments included herein do not reflect the views and opinions of Rigzone. All comments are subject to editorial review. Off-topic, inappropriate or insulting comments will be removed.
Steve-O | Mar. 5, 2012
Fantastic!! Im sick of these watermelon types (who are in the end, nothing more than useful idiots for the crooks at Goldman Sachs) standing in the way of economic progress. I wonder how much sympathy the melons will get when gas hits $6 a gallon and people are starving...No comrade, posting pictures of cute baby seals/turtles covered in oil will not help you now.

Rob S. | Mar. 4, 2012
The number of people who need and require the energy provided to us far outnumber these trivial gnats. They arent the ones producing anything for this country and the world. Keep calm and carry on.

Mkelley | Mar. 4, 2012
Oh, lighten up Saundra. 83% of the US is off-limits to oil drilling. The President and his minions are dead set against drilling, mining, and logging. With gasoline is on its way to 5 bucks a gallon this summer, the country will be back in full-blown recession within a few months. You should be ecstatic.

Walter | Mar. 4, 2012
You're just sore that your tactics are finally being used against you and fellow Watermelons. Boo Hoo. Go peddle your Marxist drivel else where

Stan | Mar. 4, 2012
The Green fascists finally have to play defense, its about time someone stood up to those nihilistic people. Watermelons can burn in hell for all I care. The silent majority dont support the ecofascists, they are too busy working and paying taxes and their bills. Hey, have a look at where the oil will come from is it doesn't come from well regulated projects like this one. Have you ever looked at the Niger Delta?

robins111 | Mar. 4, 2012
Good, I hope Shell beggers these idiotic luddites to the point that they are collecting soda bottles to make ends meet. For to long these gaggle have tried to guilt ransom every project more involved than whittling a toothpick.

Cory Harkness | Mar. 4, 2012
Saundra, you sound positively jealous. The next time you choose to "speak for the people" please hold your tongue. Thank you.

peterj | Mar. 4, 2012
You do understand they will be drilling in Alaskas Arctic Ocean? This is much too far from your parents basement for you to worry about it. Alaska has real people that actually work for a living and really need all those vehicles driven by that evil oil. People such as yourself are considered a novelty and for some reason are only seen in the summer, if at all. And most certainly.......the oil companies drilling in Alaska definitely have the will of the people. Seems as though it DOES take a child to realize the Emperor is truly naked and I presume you are talking about Al Gore. You go girl.

V10 | Mar. 4, 2012
Whats the problem? The Greens are going to demand/sue to have everything reviewed again, on the allegation that the drillers have bypassed the checks and balances or committed some kind of fraud in their application (lying about the type of work they intend to do, where, the safeguards, etc.). This is the oil company saying "Youre going to want (and get) an injunction to review all our paperwork anyway, so lets just cut to the chase and do it now." The environmentalists are always asking for another review. Theyre getting it, without even having to ask for it.

Randal | Mar. 4, 2012
Have you ever educated yourself about what constitutes the slow creep to fascism and how a society can inadvertently come to embrace it without realizing it?

Robert Bacon | Mar. 4, 2012
Wow, lawfare works BOTH ways. Nice to see Sierra Club, et al, getting some of their own.

John West | Mar. 4, 2012
Shell, I hope things go well. I do need to know I can get gas and oil for my car. Heating oil for many homes ... in cold Canada. And since they have take the Chevy volt out of production due to lack of interest of should I say lack of stupidity, we will indeed need to continue driving our gasoline engine vehicles. You detractors are evil self loathing leftists control freaks who have no life of their own so they wait for their own demise while interfering in the lives and businesses of others You go Shell.

Greg | Mar. 4, 2012
Why are you using a computer? Or using electricity? They're derived from the energy and products produced from oil and gas exploration. Your hypocrisy is glaring... Typical "do as I say, not as I do", eco wingnut.

James | Mar. 3, 2012
That first comment is funny. What is an "ill gotten gain"? Is that when a company legally extracts a natural resource and sells it to companies who make it into gasoline and consumer products that everybody needs? Doesnt sound "ill gotten" to me. If you use any electricity that uses oil, gas, or coal for generation, if you use any plastics, if you use any motor vehicle that uses oil, gas, or coal, if you live in the modern world, you are a hypocrite because you benefit from the "oil conglamerates" risking their billons to drill for oil for your benefit. Leave the rational people alone. Irrational hate isn't needed here.

Chris Tadda | Mar. 3, 2012
For Shell to have spent billions on these Federal leases, years ago. And now still fight these Non-Alaskan Interests organizations is criminal. Shell has always been in forefront to safely drill in Alaska waters. Develop strategies to deliver safe and efficient Arctic operations is what oil companies are doing in the past and right now! Ensuring safety in the Arctic and developing emergency response has been ongoing for years. I am a life long Alaska resident very concerned with our environment up here. More of us need to take a stand against these organizations that would lock up our resources and lands! Chris J. Tadda

Dave | Mar. 2, 2012
These environmental groups should not be able to object after federal approval. They should have to object before companies are given federal approval.

jim | Mar. 2, 2012
Bravo. I hope Shell receives a swift victory. I think they should also sue those same companies (Sierra club, etc.) and more for the billions in lost revenue these delays cause. I would sign up for a class action suit against them as well for what the tree-huggers do under the guise of saving the planet, is really just a self-serving misplaced idealogy that is raising oil prices, reducing jobs, and hurting the global economy.

Dave | Mar. 2, 2012
I think other oil companies should get on board with Shell and start doing more to give these activist a Wake up call. Yes we have had oil spills and pipeline breaks but these Are all preventable! The gulf oil spill was preventable and we all know it was carelessness. Pipe manufacturing and coating as well as inspection and construction procedures have changed a lot over the years to prevent disastrous spills

Richard Jackson | Mar. 2, 2012
We all know that the Emperor was naked, we just wanted to look. Speaking about being naked, if buy clothes, heat your house by electricity or natural gas or solar panels, or buy food or drive a car or drink water from a faucet,or flush a toilet, then you are hypocrite for you use the products that you claim are ill gotten and destroying the earth.

Saundra Galliher | Mar. 1, 2012
A word of advice to the oil conglomerates who attempt to control and destroy this planet with their billions in ill gotten gains and their bought and paid for pocket ball lobbyists who could care less if they destroy this planet earth......your days are numbered, you have mega resources, but you do not have the will of the people..you have their abject disgust and hatred. ..we are far greater in numbers then your corporate cretins, security staffs, and legions of high priced attorneys and miserable leagues of corrupt officials, your totally obvious strangle hold over the Republican right wingers is so blatantly obvious........it doesnt take a child to realize that the Emperor is truly naked... Saundra Galliher


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