Crag Fights with Inupiat Communities for the Second Time
In January of 2011, the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) in Washington D.C. rejected two air permits issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Shell Oil for proposed offshore drilling projects in the Arctic for the second time.
Crag represented local Iñupiat organizations in the case, including the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, a federally recognized tribal government. This was not the first time Crag has battled Shell in court and won. Prior to this case, Crag filed a case against Shell’s exploration proposal in the Beaufort Sea in 2008. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal issued an injunction prohibiting Shell from drilling the wells they proposed.
What did the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) say?
The EAB remanded permits back to EPA Region 10, where they were originally issued. The EAB rejected the permits for two reasons:
- Firstly, the EAB held that Region 10 failed to address the local community’s environmental justice concerns and the potential health impacts of NOx emissions. When they issued the permits, EPA Region 10 relied on outdated standards and science that were almost 15 years old. The outdated standards concluded that the drilling operations and NOx emissions posed “no threat” to the health of local people. Therefore, the EAB returned the permits to Region 10 for reconsideration. The Board noted that the local communities use offshore areas for subsistence, concluding that there was a real threat to the community. Region 10 was then compelled to incorporate the most recent scientific information before coming to the conclusion that Shell’s proposed operations were safe for the local community.
- Secondly, the EAB also overturned Region 10’s hasty determination of whether the 514-foot drillship was subject to permit requirements. Throughout the permitting process, Region 10 allowed Shell to unilaterally determine when the regulations would be imposed upon drillships of this size. In other words, the EPA gave Shell the power of regulating their own project. The Board noted that this was an inappropriate delegation of authority.
The rejection of these projects is a huge environmental justice win for the indigenous Iñupiat communities of the North Slope.
Shell’s proposed offshore drilling proposal would have emitted thousands of tons of pollutants into the pristine air sheds of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, including nitrous oxides (NOx), particular matter, and carbon dioxide. The local communities have already suffered from high rates of respiratory diseases like asthma, and additional pollution would further exacerbate public health issues on the North Slope.