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Raising Shell with the 9th Circuit Court

Shell Oil wanted to drill in the Beaufort Sea region of the Artic Ocean and submitted its drilling plan with the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which analyzed the company’s exploratory plan, determined that it would have minimal impact on marine mammals and eskimo subsistence activities and issued its approval in February 2007. But several environmental groups, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the North Slope Borough (county) filed suit to stop the oil company. The matter was litigated all the way up to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which last month vacated approval of the plan by the MMS…

…and remanded the plan to the agency for an enhanced environmental assessment or, “as necessary,” an environmental impact statement.

The oil company, after investing $2.2 Billion in the federal oil leases alone, had already decided last June to abandon its plans to drill in the Beaufort, because the Ninth had ruled that Shell could not conduct drilling operations while the court was deliberating the case.

But this is not the end of the story. Alaska’s governor announced yesterday that on behalf of the state of Alaska, she intends to support Shell’s petition to the Ninth for a rehearing by the full court. Expressing disappointment with the Appeals Court ruling, Gov. Palin said:

“Alaska’s economic past and future are tied directly to the development of our abundant natural resources. The loss of this exploration activity will cost our state’s families hundreds of jobs next year.”

Environmental groups routinely try to block oil companies no matter how, when or where domestic drilling is attempted. The greenies are well-funded, have armies of lawyers and can tie up drilling activities in the courts for years. What is unusual in this case, is for such groups to ally themselves with whaling interests. Environmentalists are known for wanting to save the whales, but in the Beaufort they are showing themselves to hate the idea of an energy secure America which relies on its wealth of domestic energy resources much more than they love the whales.

Also, the Ninth Circuit court of Appeals has a reputation for being the most liberal court in the nation. Alaska’s governor has her work cut out for her. But daunting challenges have never deterred Sarah Palin. She’s not the kind to back down from a fight, even when the odds are not in her favor. When Palin believed that the oil companies were not acting in best interests of her state, she took them on and prevailed. In this case, where drilling by Shell Oil will benefit Alaska, as is the governor’s view, she’s willing to be its ally in the fight.  

- JP

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