Judge Rules Shell Spill Response Plan Meets Laws

A federal judge upheld the U.S. Department of Interior’s (DOI) decision to approve Royal Dutch Shell plc’s oil spill response plans for its Arctic drilling program offshore Alaska, the Associated Press (AP) reported Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline ruled Monday that DOI’s approval process of Shell’s oil spill response plan wasn’t flawed or based on erroneous assumptions and that they did not violate the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, Bloomberg and AP reported.

Greenpeace, the Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Pacific Environment, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit, arguing that DOI’s approval process was flawed.

The groups brought the case to court to ensure that industry and regulators meet the law’s requirements to ask tough questions and reach defensible positions before companies are allowed to drill – and to ensure that operators are prepared to mount an effective cleanup in the event of a spill, said Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm that represented the groups, in an Aug. 6 press release.

“Shell’s plans are based on unrealistic assumptions and unproven technologies.  If these plans satisfy the law, then the law is broken.  Particularly after the disastrous 2012 season, the government cannot simply take Shell’s word that the company is prepared,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s Deputy vice president, Pacific, in a press statement.  “Instead, government decision-makers must insist that companies prove they can operate safely and without harming the ocean ecosystem before allowing exploration in the Arctic Ocean.”

Shell could not be reached for comment on the ruling.

Earlier this year, Shell put its offshore Alaska exploration drilling plans on hold for 2013 to prepare its equipment and employees for future drilling.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com

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