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Greenpeace asks court to stay injunction; BSEE calls for more tests

Week of June 24, 2012

As Shell moves closer to drilling in the Arctic this summer, Greenpeace is asking a court to stay an injunction against the environmental group while an appeals process plays out.

In March, federal District Court in Alaska banned the environmental group from occupying any of 19 vessels Shell plans to use for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas this summer. In May, the court amended the injunction, banning Greenpeace from occupying the vessels not only in U.S. ports and waters, but also in the U.S. exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, and to certain facilities in the town of Barrow.

Greenpeace has already appealed the injunction, but said that allowing the ruling to remain in place while the appeals process plays out would have “an improper chilling effect on the free speech rights of one of the environmental advocacy organizations most uniquely situated to comment on Shell’s potentially disastrous Arctic drilling campaign.”

More inspections needed
After touring the ships in Seattle and the capping stack in Portland, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Jim Watson said Shell would need to pass more tests of its safety equipment before it would be allowed to drill in the Arctic this summer.

BSEE engineers and inspectors and Coast Guard safety inspectors are currently reviewing the rigs. “We have conducted inspections of the two drilling rigs, but we are not making any determinations about their permit applications until all of our safety requirements have been met, including the successful deployment and testing of the capping stack and their proposed containment system,” Watson said in a statement.

The agencies also plan to conduct tests on-water and on-site inspections on the rigs throughout the drilling process and monthly inspections of the capping stack.

The capping stack is the piece of safety equipment BP ultimately used to control the Macondo well following the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Should Shell get permission to drill, the stack would be deployed halfway between its two proposed drilling locations.

Solutions will improve
Asked by the Canadian publication MacLeans about the safety of Arctic drilling, Royal Dutch Shell CEO Peter Voser said the shallow waters and low-pressure geology in the Arctic is “a different risk profile” than the deepwater and high pressure Gulf of Mexico.

Asked about cleaning a potential oil spill in ice, Voser said, “I think today we are of the opinion that we can deal with it. That’s not necessary in the exploration phase, because we will only drill in ice-free periods. It’s a challenging environment, a challenging process. But as an industry, and also as a company, we’ve spent significant money developing technical solutions to that. These solutions over the years will improve.”

—Eric Lidji

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