Shell lease requests offshore Alaska face scrutiny

Environmentalists file to intervene in federal review of Shell's leases in Arctic waters.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Jan. 14, 2016 at 6:13 AM
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- A group of environmental activists filed a challenge to leases held by Royal Dutch Shell in Alaskan waters, citing the need to act on behalf of the climate.

Earthjustice, working on behalf of eight conservation groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, filed to intervene in decisions before the Department of Interior regarding Shell's leases in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

"The Arctic Ocean is ground zero for climate change, and drilling in such a sensitive region threatens the whales, seals and countless other wildlife that call it home," Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe said in a statement.

Shell is challenging a decision by the federal government to deny its request to suspend leases in the Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska that would expire in 2017 and 2020. Federal leases expire at the end of their terms unless operators are engaged in drilling or related activity.

In September, the company said it found evidence of oil and natural gas in its Burger exploration well located in the shallow waters off the coast of Alaska, but not enough to warrant further activity.

Shell, in a December filing, said it was moving to protect its assets and leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, arguing suspensions of the clock on the leases is warranted. The appeal, however, does not change the company's decision to halt work offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future.

Activists worked to thwart the deployment of drilling rigs bound for the Arctic waters offshore Alaska last year in a series of high-profile protests. Pointing to a track record of early equipment failures from Shell, critics said the program offered more problems than promise.

Earthjustice said the federal government was right to deny Shell's request, adding there are few response options should a major oil spill occur in Arctic waters.

"Developing and burning Arctic Ocean oil is incompatible with efforts to combat climate change," Grafe said. "To help stave off the worst effects of climate change, the Arctic Ocean must be off limits to future drilling."

The Dutch supermajor committed about $7 billion to the Alaska program.

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