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Shell’s Alaska Oil Plan Contested by Inupiat Village, Groups

Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s U.S. approval for oil exploration in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea is being contested by groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and an Inupiat village worried about the risk of spills.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, based in New York, and Point Hope, a settlement on Alaska’s North Slope, were among a team that sued the Interior Department for deciding to allow the drilling, Holly Harris, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice, said today on a conference call with reporters.

President Barack Obama’s administration failed to ensure the environment will be protected during drilling, as required by a law regulating offshore development, Harris said. Earthjustice filed the petition in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for 12 environmental organizations and Point Hope.

“Approving this kind of risky behavior without an adequate environmental review, and without public input is unlawful,” Harris told reporters. “We are going to do everything we can to bring this to the” court’s attention.

The Hague-based company was cleared by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement on Aug. 4 to begin exploring in July 2012 and tap Arctic leases it bought in 2005 and later years, in which it has invested about $4 billion.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management doesn’t have a comment on the groups’ complaints, spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said in an e-mail today.

Shell’s plan for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, which are estimated to hold about 25 billion barrels of oil, have been delayed by environmental groups, North Slope residents and the administration over concerns that a spill may kill polar bears and hurt bowhead whales, key to the North Slope subsistence lifestyle. A federal appeals court in 2007 halted Shell’s Chukchi work in response to complaints from the groups.

Shell remains confident that the approval of the Beaufort exploration plan will be upheld in court, spokesman Curtis Smith said in an e-mail today.

-- Editors: Steve Geimann, Judy Pasternak

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