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Bid to stop Shell's Arctic drilling

Environmental and Alaska Native groups will try to keep Shell Oil out of Arctic waters this summer by appealing against an air permit that was granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US.

The nine groups have sued in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, asking judges to send the permit granted to the Shell drilling ship Noble Discoverer back to the EPA for reconsideration.

"We think EPA took shortcuts," said Colin O'Brien, an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm representing the groups. "We believe the permit failed to ensure that all air pollution controls are in place and that all standards are met for this major new source of pollution in the Arctic."

Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said the company and the EPA have worked to assemble strong, environmentally responsible air permits.

Shell plans to use the Noble Discoverer to drill three exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's north-west coast during the open water season this year.

The company hopes to use a second drill ship, the Kulluk, to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska's north coast. Shell is awaiting an air permit for the Kulluk, which the company says could drill a relief well in the Chukchi Sea if the Noble Discoverer experiences a problem and is disabled.

A successful appeal of previous air permits played a part in Shell's decision to cancel Chukchi and Beaufort drilling for 2011. In that case, the EPA Appeals Board concluded that an analysis of the impact of nitrogen dioxide emissions on Alaska Native communities was too limited.

The EPA Appeals Board rejected challenges to the current permit. Mr O'Brien said the agency and the appeals board got it wrong.

The coalition challenging the permit includes the Alaska Native group REDOIL, or Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, and environmental groups Alaska Wilderness League, Centre for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defence Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Centre, Oceana, Pacific Environment, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.

The groups issued a statement claiming the drill ship and other vessels in Shell's fleet will pump tens of thousands of tons of pollution into Arctic skies, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate. They said greenhouse gases and black carbon from the fleet will accelerate the loss of snow and ice in the Arctic due to climate warming.

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