Shell Sued by Environmental Groups over Offshore Plan
Lawsuits challenging the federal government’s approval of an offshore exploration plan of Shell Oil Co. present a major test of the power of regulators to rapidly evaluate deep-water drilling projects.
In two separate but intertwining filings, conservationists argue that the government is bound by federal law to finish a post-spill environmental study of the Gulf of Mexico first before approving last month the plan of Shell.
The complaints were filed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. One complaint was filed by the Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The other complaint was filed by Earthjustice, the Gulf Restoration Network, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club.
The coalition of the Defenders of Wildlife claims that by approving the exploration plan of Shell, the government violated the National Environmental Policy Act and a couple of other federal laws. These laws require government studies, as well as coordination with other government agencies, before they can take any action that could potentially hurt marine life or affect the environment in general.
The legal challenge posed by the Earthjustice coalition is a little bit limited and is focused more on the environmental policy law.
The stakes are high for all the parties involved, particularly the government, as well as the oil and gas industry. An adverse judgment against the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement could strike a debilitating blow to the agency. It could also frustrate the chances of companies that are rapidly undertaking new deep-water drilling ventures in the Gulf. On the other hand, a favorable decision would strengthen the chances of the agency to speed up on the review process of offshore drilling projects in the future.