Court Flip-Flops on Shell Drilling Decision
In a bizarre move that no one can quite seem to figure out, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated an opinion from November that had halted Shell's plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea. This ice-choked sea is some of the only polar bear habitat in the United States as well as key whale and sea bird habitat. For these reasons among many, the court made a very reasonable decision last November when it concluded that the Minerals Management Service had improperly granted Shell permission for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort.
Why the court has vacated this decision is baffling, to say the least. Even Shell Spokesman Chris Smith is quoted in the Associated Press as saying, "It's impossible to know what the intent of this decision could mean." That puts it mildly. Will drilling occur or won't it? Why does this decision come now, at a time when the new administration is putting science back into policy? Back in November the court ruled that MMS had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to adequately assess the impact that drilling would have on the environment and indigenous communities. That failure to comply has not changed. In fact, in light of the decision, Shell postponed any exploration it had planned for 2009 on leases in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.