The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday granted Royal Dutch Shell air pollution permits the company needs to begin drilling in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast next year.
The permits allow the company to operate the Discoverer drillship and supporting icebreakers, oil spill response vessels and other ships in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, according to EPA.
The permits follow the Interior Department’s conditional approval of Shell’s exploration plan for the Beaufort Sea in August, bringing the oil giant closer to drilling in the region that environmentalists argue should be off-limits.
The company still needs various other federal approvals, such as Interior Department drilling permits, to begin exploration next year. EPA is also still weighing a permit Shell needs to operate its Kulluk drilling rig in the Beaufort Sea next year.
Shell has spent billions of dollars on leases and other costs in its quest to drill in Alaska’s Arctic seas, a region that’s home to several fragile species.
The company cheered the new permits.
“The issuance of final air permits for our exploration program is another in a series of recent, positive developments and ads to our confidence that we will be drilling our offshore Alaska leases by July of next year,” Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said in an email to Dow Jones newswires.
The Alaska Wilderness League slammed the EPA decision.
“If Shell is allowed to proceed with its proposed drilling, the resulting pollution could have a devastating impact on my people, who have called the Arctic home for thousands of years,” said Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, the group’s liaison, in a statement alleging that pollution from the drilling will lead to respiratory and heart problems.
EPA had already issued permits to Shell in 2010, but the agency’s independent Environmental Appeals Board sent them back to EPA late last year after a challenge from green groups and Alaska native groups.
“Under the new permits, Shell will reduce its fleet emissions of most key air pollutants including fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide by more than 50 percent from the levels allowed in their 2010 permits. These reductions are largely due to new emissions controls Shell added to meet the new nitrogen dioxide standard that went into effect in 2011,” EPA said.
Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, tells Reuters that environmental and native groups are likely to challenge the new permits before EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board.
House Republicans and some Democrats say that oil companies face too many bureaucratic hurdles.