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EPA rejects challenges to Shell's Arctic air permit

Alaska Dispatch

According to The Associated Press (via Fuel Fix), The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Appeals Board has rejected challenges to air quality permits issued for ships needed in Royal Dutch Shell's exploratory drilling program in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

The rejected appeals were filed by environmental groups and local groups from northern Alaska, and were based on several grounds, including flawed estimates of emissions and insufficient time allowed for public review.

“These permits pave the way for Shell to emit thousands of tons of harmful air pollution into the pristine Arctic environment, at levels that may be harmful to nearby communities and the environment for years to come,” said Earthjustice attorney Colin O'Brien, who was representing several groups who made one of the four challenges.

O'Brien said an appeal in federal court of the decision is possible, but that it was too early to speculate about potential next steps.

Although some Shell Arctic offshore project permits remain unsecured, the decision means that the company is one step closer to drilling wells in the 2012 season.

Shell Alaska spokesperson Curtis Smith said that for the first time, his company has air quality permits to operate its drill ship, Northern Discoverer, in the waters of Alaska's outer continental shelf.

“Achieving usable permits from the EPA is a very important step for Shell and one of the strongest indicators to date that we will be exploring our Beaufort and Chukchi leases in July,” Smith said.

Read more from the AP, here, and for some light legal reading, check out the appeals board's full decision.

The Hill's energy and environment blog has reactions from Alaska's senators, who generally expressed relief at the decision and hope that outstanding pieces of the regulatory puzzle will fall into place in a similar manner.