Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Concern Over Spill Cleanup Readiness Prompts Lawsuit

As Shell Oil’s drill rigs head for the Arctic, with plans to drill offshore this summer, litigation has been filed in federal court in Anchorage challenging the federal government’s decision to approve oil spill response plans for such drilling programs.

The lawsuit, filed July 10 by a coalition of conservation groups, names as defendants Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and two other Interior department officials.

While critical of the federal government’s decision to approve Shell Oil’s spill response plan, the suit does not name Shell as a defendant.

The plaintiffs, represented by Earthjustice, include the Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, Pacific Environment and Sierra Club.

“We cannot allow the future of the Arctic Ocean to be risked on the hope that nothing will go wrong,” the conservation groups said in a written statement.

Shell Oil spokesman Curtis Smith said that company remains confident that the process followed to approve their oil spill response plan was extremely thorough and will have no problem withstanding legal review.

“Regulators at the highest level have looked very closely at these plans, they have confidence in the plans and if they did not, we would not be on the doorstep to drilling in Alaska,” he said.

Mike LeVine, an attorney with Oceana, said the lawsuit’s aim is to protect the Arctic Ocean and make sure the law is upheld when oil spill response plans are approved.

The lawsuit alleges that the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act were violated when the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Interior Department approved spill cleanup plans for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

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