A federal appeals court refused to block oil drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea in a decision late last week.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Interior Dept. approval of Shell Oil’s spill response plan, which could open the door to the first major offshore drilling in the Arctic since the early 1990s.
Despite repeated challenges to the drilling plan that began in 2003, Shell and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, part of the Interior Department, prevailed in this latest challenge by environmentalists.
The current appeal stems from Shell’s revision of its oil spill response plan in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Shell was required to beef up an earlier plan and expand the definition of “worst-case scenario.”
The bureau’s approval of Shell’s exploration plan was entitled to “deference and is supported by the record as a whole,” wrote Judge Sandra Ikuta.
Shell won the bid for the government’s lease sale for oil exploration on the outer continental shelf in the Beaufort Sea in 2003 but has never commenced exploration.
It submitted the first exploration plan in November 2006. It was approved three months later but environmental challenges followed and the 9th Circuit issued a stay of operations to give time to hear the appeal.
Shell withdrew the plan in 2009 and submitted a new plan in May 2010, but in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill the government suspended all drilling activities in the Arctic two months later.
That drilling ban was listed last year and Shell again submitted its plan for review.
The latest decision approves the Bureau of Energy Management’s action to allow Shell to proceed.
Case: Native Village of Point Hope v. Salazar, No. 11-72891