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Enviros Suing Shell Over Arctic Drilling Leases, 2015 Exploration Plans

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Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic prospecting plans have sparked two new lawsuits. An alliance of environmental and Alaska-based community groups is challenging the sale of leases in the Chukchi Sea. The second suit takes issue with Shell’s exploration plan, which was recently approved by a federal agency.

Eric Grafe is with Earthjustice, which filed the suit against Shell’s Arctic exploration plan in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Grafe is representing ten other groups, including the Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth.

The plan recently  got a green light from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

“The specific plan that Shell’s developed was approved very quickly, in 30 days, with just a very cursory environmental review,” said Grafe.

He says Shell’s record in the Arctic was already bad after its failed attempts to explore there in 2012, with one drilling rig, the Kulluk, running aground and totaled, and another catching fire.

The company subsequently paid more than a million dollars for air pollution violations and its main contractor pled guilty for felony convictions and paid $12 million in fines. 

 “So 2012 went terribly. And here comes Shell again with another plan. This one even bigger and dirtier and more intense and more risky, to drill in the Chukchi Sea - right in the heart of important habitat for walruses and bow head whales.”

And he says the US Interior department hasn’t done adequate review of that plan.

Shell says it has learned some important lessons since then and added to its fleet, for example, replacing the Kulluk with the much newer Polar Pioneer. That rig is currently parked at Seattle’s Terminal 5.

Spokesman Curtis Smith said via email the company believes its most recent exploration plan is robust and expects regulators were equally thorough in the process they used to approve it.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to