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Shell oil company nixes drilling in Alaskan Arctic for 2011

February 3, 2011 |  1:59 pm

Shell announced on Thursday it would forgo exploratory drilling in the Alaskan Arctic for this year, the result of a ruling last month that revoked the oil giant’s federal clean-air permits that allowed drilling ships and support vessels to operate in the sensitive region.

The company had been putting pressure on the Department of Interior to allow drilling in Arctic waters at a time when federal regulators were reviewing all energy exploration in the wake of the BP blowout in the gulf of Mexico.

Attorneys representing Alaska Natives and conservation groups in January succeeded in challenging clean-air permits granted by the Environmental Protection Agency to Shell for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

The federal Environmental Appeals Board ruled that EPA's analysis of the effect to Alaska native communities of nitrogen dioxide emissions from the drilling ships was too limited and ordered the agency to redo the work.

The Royal Dutch Shell company has tried for five years to begin work in the Alaskan Arctic, which poses both environmental and logistical challenges. Shell Alaska Vice President Pete Slaiby blamed the decision to halt the Beaufort exploratory drilling on "continuous regulatory delays."

Alaska’s congressional delegation expressed disappointment, saying the work would have created 800 jobs.
But environmental groups were ecstatic, saying more study needs to be done before allowing drilling in polar bear habitat. 

“The bottom line is that there is no known way to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s conditions and too little is known about the Arctic’s marine environment,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “If there’s one lesson we’ve learned from the gulf spill, it’s that we can no longer rely on the oil industry’s shallow assurances. When it comes to the Arctic, there is too much at stake."

 -- Julie Cart

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