December 2, 2014
Shell’s Lawsuit against Environmental Groups Declared Unconstitutional by Appeals Court
BY: Brianna Elliott
Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court rejected a lawsuit filed by Royal Dutch Shell roughly two years ago against 13 environmental and Alaska Native entities, including Oceana. Shell sued the groups in a “preemptive” move to keep them from being able to sue Shell over its plans to drill in the Arctic. The court ruled that this was a “novel” move by Shell—and one that wasn’t permitted under the United States Constitution.
Oceana’s deputy vice president for the Pacific, Susan Murray, issued the following statement in response to the court’s ruling in a recent press release:
Shell’s lawsuits against Oceana and our partners attempted to circumvent the constitution. Shell, one of the largest corporations in the world, sued nonprofit organizations on the grounds that the groups would dare speak out against the company’s proposals and use the courts to have that opposition heard when all other avenues had been exhausted without fair resolution. Today’s decision makes clear that Shell’s intimidation tactics will not stand.
Shell has failed repeatedly in efforts to explore in the Arctic Ocean, and it now appears that the company’s prospects in the U.S. Arctic Ocean are increasingly tenuous. This decision comes on the heels of news that Shell has sought an unprecedented suspension of its leases. Additionally, the company is arguing against important safety and spill prevention rules on the grounds that they are too expensive.
Enough is enough. Efforts to skirt important rules and intimidate opposition will not work. It is time for Shell to face the facts and take a step back in the Arctic.
This lawsuit was one of three that the company filed in federal court in 2012 seeking “preemptive” declarations that its permits granted by federal agencies were valid. The other cases have been dismissed.
The court’s ruling comes at the heels of another one of Shell’s questionable tactics coming under the spotlight. In October, Oceana released a letter uncovered from Shell to the to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) asking that it extend Shell’s 10-year exploratory lease for drilling in the Arctic, citing that it lost time due to “unexpected” factors “beyond Shell’s control.” Though Shell acknowledged the difficulties of Arctic drilling in the letter, it blamed other factors like accommodating Native whaling in the Beaufort Sea rather than admitting some of its own mistakes.
But, despite these failures and dangers associated with Arctic drilling, the federal government is still moving ahead with exploratory drilling leases for the Chukchi Sea. After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)—saying they drastically underestimated the possible development and resulting impacts to the ocean that could result from the sale—for the Chukchi Lease Sale 193, BOEM released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) in October that estimates a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill should drilling happen in the Arctic Ocean.
“BOEM’s own estimates show that Arctic drilling puts the region at risk. Through the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and the 2010 BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, we’ve seen time and time again how devastating offshore drilling can be,” says Oceana vice president for U.S. oceans Jackie Savitz. “It’s time to move away from dangerous drilling practices and recognize that there are cleaner energy alternatives like offshore wind energy.”
Oceana believes that drilling in the Arctic Ocean is simply too dangerous: There is no proven way to clean up oil in icy or isolated conditions, and it threatens iconic wildlife like beluga whales and ringed seals. Oceana is actively campaigning to protect the Arctic from offshore drilling, but we need your help in telling BOEM that now is not the time for Arctic Ocean drilling. Click here to add your voice opposing Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193.