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Vol. 16, No. 44 Week of October 30, 2011
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Environmental, Native groups appeal Discoverer air permits

It came as no surprise, but on Oct. 24 two petitions challenging Shell’s air quality permits for the use of the Noble Discoverer drillship in the Arctic outer continental shelf landed in the inbox of the Environmental Appeals Board, the panel of judges with final authority over Environmental Protection Agency decisions. One petition came from the Native Village of Point Hope and a group of 10 environmental organizations; the other from the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

EPA had issued the Shell permits on Sept. 25 — the permits cover Shell’s use of the Noble Discoverer for drilling the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, starting in the summer open water season of 2012. The permits came in the wake of a previous appeal to the EAB over earlier permits, with EPA having taken account of EAB directives from that earlier appeal when developing the new permits.

Nitrogen dioxide

The group involving the Native Village of Point Hope claims that the Shell permits will allow the emission of nitrogen dioxide in quantities that will cause degradation of air quality beyond permitted limits. The group also claims that EPA allowed Shell to use incorrect calculations to demonstrate nitrogen dioxide emissions compliance. And the group says that the permits’ stipulations that ambient air standards only apply outside a 500-meter zone around the drillship contravenes EPA’s definition of ambient air. For an onshore industrial facility, ambient air standards only apply outside the facility’s fence — EPA has said that the equivalent to the “fence” for Shell’s offshore drillship will be a U.S. Coast Guard imposed 500-meter public safety zone around the ship.

The Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission have claimed that the public review period for the draft air quality permits was in effect only half of the legally required 30 days because of the demands on the public of overlapping review periods for multiple air quality permits — between July 6 and July 22 EPA had initiated public review periods for three Shell permits and two versions of a ConocoPhillips permit. The organizations also claim that EPA’s definition of the time periods during which the drillship becomes a regulated emissions source is inadequate; the groups claim that Shell’s limits on greenhouse gas emissions during drilling operations are unenforceable; and the groups claim that EPA has not adequately assessed the impact of the drillship emissions on local Native communities.

The Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope has recently said that a vote conducted on Oct. 4 among Inupiat tribal members in eight Arctic coastal communities showed that nearly 60 percent of the people polled oppose oil and gas development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

—Alan Bailey



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