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Shell effort to preempt legal challenges to Alaskan drilling plans fails

The ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a recent case that Shell Oil Company is unable to preemptively sue environmental advocacy groups for putting up legal barriers to offshore drilling in Alaska. The oil giant has reportedly spent billions of dollars on leases and other legal requirements for oil drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and hopes to begin drilling in 2015.

In 2012, Shell filed several separate lawsuits seeking a declaratory judgment against numerous environmental groups likely to challenge its drilling plans. The recent circuit court decision is for one of those cases. The other lawsuits have been dismissed, though one is currently pending appeal. 

Statements by environmental advocates about the recent decision have been celebratory, and highlight concern for the potentially disastrous effects on local wildlife and fishing economies should the company begin its drilling as planned. The concern is partly because of the dangerous nature of drilling in the proposed waters, but the concern also undoubtedly stems from the still-fresh memory of the Deepwater Horizon disaster back in 2010.

Those who are familiar with the industry know that state and federal regulations for oil drilling are numerous, and require companies to do a great deal of legwork before drilling can begin. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, regulates various aspects of the gas and oil industry, and companies can face penalties for failure to abide by those regulations.

Companies looking to expand their business in according with federal and state law, of course, can benefit from working with experienced environmental law attorneys to ensure they do everything correctly and in accordance with their business interests.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Shell lawsuit against environmental groups ruled unconstitutional,” Maria L. La Ganga, Nov. 13, 2014. 

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