Appeals court upholds Shell’s Arctic oil spill plans

The Polar Pioneer oil drilling rig during demonstrations against Royal Dutch Shell on May 16, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (David Ryder/Getty Images)
The Polar Pioneer oil drilling rig during demonstrations against Royal Dutch Shell on May 16, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (David Ryder/Getty Images)
A federal appeals court Thursday upheld the Interior Department’s approval of two oil spill response plans crafted by Royal Dutch Shell for the company’s planned Arctic drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

The three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit split its vote, 2-1, upholding approval of Shell’s oil spill response plans in a ruling Thursday.

Environmental groups that brought the lawsuit claimed the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement should have rejected the plans for 2005, 2007 and 2008 leases and required additional environmental reviews. The groups worry that a spill from offshore drilling in the Arctic could have devastating environmental consequences.

Environmental impact statement not required

In its decision, the panel wrote that agency approval of the plans was not subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, and therefore did not require an environmental impact statement.

Judge D.W. Nelson disagreed with the majority, arguing that the bureau should have done an Endangered Species Act consultation and a review under NEPA before approving the spill response plans.

Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said Tuesday’s decision “is very troubling.” AWL was one of the groups that sued over the spill plans.

“Such a result places the Arctic at even greater risk from companies like Shell, who are willing to do and say seemingly anything to explore for oil under Arctic waters,” she said, urging the Obama administration to “use other authorities to protect the Arctic’s inestimable values.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Arctic drilling doesn’t just effect the Arctic say Greenpeace campaign participants, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finns still sharply divided over wind power, Yle News

Greenland: Arctic oil and gas must stay in ground to restrict warming to 2°C says study, Blog by Mia Bennett

Iceland:  From Arctic Circle 2013-2014, a big drop in the price of oil, Blog by Mia Bennett

Norway:  Norway surpasses Russia as top gas supplier, Barents Observer

Russia: Parallels drawn between space race and Arctic offshore development, Blog by Mia Bennett

United States: Oil & gas revenue-sharing is ‘simple fairness,’ says Alaska senator, Blog by Mia Bennett

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