Shell wins injunction against Greenpeace

AP Photo/Ian Terry/The Herald

Shell made a big step forward May 11 in its quest to explore in the Chukchi Sea. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management conditionally approved the company’s exploration plans, filed earlier this year, for federal Outer Continental Shelf leases Shell bid on in a 2008 federal lease sale.

Since then the company has been able to drill two partly-completed wells in 2012, one in the Chukchi Sea and one in the Beaufort Sea, and has spent about $6 billion so far on its Arctic program.

In another development, Alaska U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason issued a preliminary injunction May 8 that bars Greenpeace, the environmental organization, from attempts to impede operations of Shell’s vessels while in Puget Sound, in ocean transit or in the Arctic this summer.

Gleason ordered safety zones for the ocean surface around each of the vessels ranging from 500 to 1,500 meters depending on the activity being performed and also established a restricted airspace zone of 3,000 feet and a half-mile radius around drillships and major support vessels while in the Arctic. The court also prohibited the use of drones by Greenpeace without prior court approval.

Meanwhile, the approval of Shell’s exploration plan by the U.S. BOEM still requires the company to secure other federal permits such as drilling permits issues by the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, a sister agency to the BOEM within the Interior Department.

Biological Opinions on endangered species from the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, must also be obtained, BOEM said in its May 11 announcement.

According to NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region spokeswoman Julie Speegle, there are two pending biological opinions. One is related to Lease Sale 193 in the Chukchi Sea. The other is specific to Shell’s 2015 exploration, and includes incidental harassment authorization protocol for encounters with protected species. Speegle said both are expected to be complete by the end of May.

BOEM Alaska officials praised the Alaska community and tribal leaders who participated in reviews of the exploration plan.

“The review of this plan was a team effort,” said James Kendall, BOEM’s Alaska regional director. “We’d like to thank the experts in our cooperating agencies, the tribal government representatives who took time out from their busy schedules to do government-to-government consultations and of course the many members of the public and stakeholder organizations who provided us with valuable comments during the review process,” Kendall said.

Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan praised the BOEM’s approval decision. The Obama administration has worked to limit energy exploration in Alaska, “but I hope this announcement represents a new approach,” the senator said.

“The Department of the Interior and Shell still have work to do before any exploratory drilling occurs in the Arctic this summer, but this news is a positive step,” Sullivan said.

Alaska Oil and Gas Association president Kara Moriarty also voiced support for the BOEM decision: “Shell continues to prove to regulators that it has a legitimate plan to work safely in the Arctic, and that balance between development and protection can be achieved.”

Journal reporter DJ Summers contributed to this article.

11/20/2016 - 9:15am