ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Feb 11 (Reuters) - A federal panel has denied a request from Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) to reinstate disputed air-quality permits needed to drill offshore in Arctic waters, making it clear that the company and regulators must start over to draft new and stricter permits.
The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Appeals Board, a panel overseeing Environmental Protection Agency matters, on Thursday issued a ruling rejecting Shell’s request that it reconsider a Dec. 30 order overturning two major permits that the company needed to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska.
Joining in that request for reinstatement was the Seattle-based regional office of the EPA, which issued the now-overturned air-quality permits to Shell last spring.
The EAB also denied Shell’s request that a deadline be set for the EPA to issue new air-quality permits.
Disputes over the air-quality permits, which Alaska Native and environmental groups challenged as too lax, have set back Shell’s plans to conduct exploratory drilling in Arctic waters. Shell last month announced it was canceling plans to drill this summer and fall in the Beaufort Sea because of permit uncertainty.
A Shell spokeswoman said on Friday the company remains hopeful it will secure necessary permits in time to drill next year.
“Having a process that is efficient and timely so that we can move forward on making business decision plans for 2012 is vitally important,” said Kelly op de Weegh, spokeswoman for Shell in Houston. “We realize that we’ve got a road ahead with regard to the permitting process for the air permit.”
Brendan Cummings, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity and a critic of Shell’s drilling plans, said he expects a new permit for Beaufort Sea drilling operations to be issued over the coming year or early next year — as long as the permit complies with new requirements that greenhouse gas emissions be curbed.
“If Shell wants to be permitted fast, they need to submit a permit application that actually complies with the law,” Cummings said Friday. (Editing by Bill Rigby; Editing by Gary Hill)