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Court To Allow Shell to Drill in Gulf of Mexico

The Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday threw out a petition by Defenders of Wildlife and Gulf Restoration Network to halt Shell Oil’s latest exploration plan to drill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had approved Shell’s plan, or “Shell EP,” to conduct drilling in ten exploratory wells between 7,100 and 7,300 feet deep off the shore of Alabama in the Central Gulf of Mexico.

The petitioners challenged the ruling, claiming that Shell EP violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species. The court said that NEPA’s requirements had been met, and the low probability (estimated risk of 0.07%) of an oil spill means the exploratory drilling does not violate the Endangered Species Act.

This was the first challenge to an exploration drilling plan since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Emily Oberton, a Shell spokesperson, said, “We are pleased with the Court’s ruling on the Appomattox Exploration Plan and believe that the Court reached the right result.  We look forward to continued progress on exploring and appraising our Appomattox prospect.”

Monica Reimer represented the petitioners Gulf Restoration Network, Florida Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club. “It was very disappointing because we feel that the catastrophic nature of the results, which we now know thanks to Deepwater Horizon, were not taken into account,” Ms. Reimer said.

Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented petitioners Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and Natural Resources Defense Council, also expressed disappointment.

“I think we’re evaluating what our options are, but we’re not prepared at this point to really say how we might go forward.”

Steven Rosenbaum, a partner at Covington & Burling LLP, is the lead lawyer representing the American Petroleum Institute, the leading domestic oil industry trade association.

“Our client, the American Petroleum Institute, is gratified by the Eleventh Circuit decision rejecting the legal challenge to the Government’s approval of Shell’s exploration plan,” Mr. Rosenbaum commented. “The plan underwent careful environmental review and the Government’s decision to approve it was clearly the correct one.”

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