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August 10, 2009 --- Vol. 15, No. 58August 2009

MMS determines Shell’s new Beaufort Sea plan to be complete

The U.S. Minerals Management Service has determined that Shell’s new Beaufort Sea exploration plan is complete, thus starting a 30-day period during which the agency must carry out an environmental assessment of the plan. At the end of the environmental assessment the agency will decide whether to approve the plan, require modification to it or disapprove it, the U.S. Department of the Interior said today.

“The responsible development of offshore resources is part of our nation’s comprehensive energy plan, which includes a renewed emphasis on conservation and an aggressive effort to develop renewable resources so we can move the nation towards energy independence,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “Now that Shell’s plan has reached this important milestone, we will review it carefully to ensure that it is technically sound and will protect the Beaufort Sea and Alaska’s environment.”

The new exploration plan, scaled down considerably from Shell’s earlier 2007 to 2009 plan that became the subject of lengthy and unresolved litigation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, covers just the year 2010 and envisages a single drillship, the Frontier Discoverer, tended by a single ice-management vessel, drilling two wells in the Sivulliq prospect in a couple of Shell leases on the west side of Camden Bay, offshore the eastern end of the North Slope. When in May Shell submitted the new exploration plan for approval, the company said that it had scaled down its plan to address concerns about the cumulative impacts of offshore activities, and to demonstrate its ability to safely conduct offshore drilling.

In addition to MMS approval of its exploration plan, Shell must demonstrate compliance with Alaska’s coastal management plan and obtain permits and authorizations from the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The leases being explored were issued in the MMS 2002-07 lease sale program, thus predating the 2007-12 program which a federal appeals court has sent back to MMS for further environmental analysis.

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