Greenpeace protesters scale the pillars of the National Gallery in central London, on February 21, 2012, as they unfurl a banner in protest at what they claim are Shell's plans for drilling oil in the Arctic region.
Back in March we told you about an unprecedented federal legal complaint by Shell, in which the company sought relief from complaints by environmental groups that didn't yet exist. Now those complaints do exist, except, of course, they're against the federal government.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Sierra Club, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Ocean Conservancy are among the environmental groups that have now sued the feds for declaratory and injunctive relief. They argue that the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement was wrong to approve oil spill response plans for Shell in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
The groups claim the federal government has violated Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Endangered Species Act requirements that agencies consider environmental harms through set procedures. Essentially, they're asking a federal judge to declare the government's decision to permit Shell to operate under current plans to be "arbitrary and capricious" under federal law. That's an increasingly tough standard to meet.
The reason they argue Shell shouldn't be able to drill in the Arctic is that the federal government hasn't done environmental impact or endangered species analyses for what happens under the worst case scenario. Shell has filed plans for what happens in the case of disaster under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. They point out that the government's own paperwork concludes that "containment and recovery at sea rarely results in the removal of more than a relatively small proportion of a large spill, at best only 10 – 15 [percent] of the spilled oil and often considerably less."
In a statement, the groups complained that Shell might be touting its response capabilities publicly, but that Arctic containment system isn't officially included in federal response plans (though the complaint doesn't assert why that might be). More from the press release:
BSEE rubber-stamped plans that rely on unbelievable assumptions, include equipment that has never been tested in Arctic conditions, and ignore the very real possibility that a spill could continue through the winter. The agency has not met minimum legal standards to be sure that Shell’s plans could be effective and that Shell has sufficient boats, resources, and spill responders to remove a ‘worst-case’ oil spill in the Arctic Ocean to the ‘maximum extent practicable.’ Even after Deepwater Horizon, Interior Secretary Salazar brushed aside concerns about Shell’s spill response capabilities, stating recently that ‘there is not going to be an oil spill.’ The American people deserve more.
Shell had argued that the groups shouldn't be allowed to challenge federal permission for drilling in spring, and that it should get a definitive answer whether it can drill this summer as soon as possible.
This fight's been heating up in intervening months. It's the reason Greenpeace partnered with the Yes Men to produce a video that went so viral people believed it was true, and started a Save the Arctic campaign backed by celebrities including Thom Yorke & Paul McCartney.