Traditionally, and especially in recent years, environmental groups have been opposed to offshore drilling and often sue companies seeking to do so. The track record of offshore drilling, such as spills, lends itself to criticism and concern for the environment. Drilling for oil in the Arctic is especially dangerous due to the conditions and unruly weather, lending itself to even greater potential for trouble. In a rare step, an oil company is suing environmental groups in order to prevent disruption from the groups when it comes to drilling in the Arctic.
Royal Dutch Shell was approved for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic. Recently the company was given the go-ahead for their oil spill response plan by the United States’ federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Shell is said to be preemptively suing environmental groups in order to avoid a court-related delay since it would likely derail their plans for an entire year or more due to restrictions on drilling times in the Arctic summer.
The petition filed by Shell in the U.S. court in Anchorage indicates more than a dozen environmental groups, including Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society, Oceana and a number of other groups. The particular groups named in the lawsuit are ones that have sued the company and other oil companies in the past for concerns regarding oil drilling. The lawsuit specifically petitions the court to declare that the approval of their oil spill response was in line with federal law in order to avoid the issue with the groups in the future.
Speaking for Shell, Kelly op de Weegh stated: “We’re confident that the approval of this plan met all legal and regulatory requirements and it’s certainly strong enough to withstand legal review, but we’d just rather start that sooner rather than later. […] This does not restrict, and we’re not seeking to restrict, any parties’ right to challenge the oil spill response plan.”
Environmental groups are unhappy with the decision of Shell, but it does not seem to have deterred them. One group in particular has already indicated that they filed a lawsuit prior to this one by Shell concerning the drilling plan for Shell in the Arctic, that group being Oceana. Whit Sheard, senior advisor for Oceana, stated: “Shell’s aggressive campaign to get drills into the fragile and remote Arctic waters have reached a new low- filing lawsuits against nonprofit organizations acting in the public interest to protect the environment from risky development.”
It is unknown at this time how the court will proceed or how the Shell or Oceana lawsuits will impact current drilling plans. However, Shell having filed in Alaska, where the oil industry has a strong presence, is thought to put the court proceedings in Shell’s favor.