The environmental advocacy community aims to have a voice as the Department of Interior addresses oil industry arguments that rights to drill for oil in Arctic seas were unlawfully taken away.
In a motion filed Wednesday with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, nine organizations asked for permission to intervene in two Royal Dutch Shell PLC subsidiaries’ efforts to force the Obama administration to extend exploration leases for five years.
“The agency was right to reject Shell’s extension request, and we look forward to helping it defend that decision,” Erik Grafe, an attorney at Earthjustice who is representing the groups, said.
Royal Dutch Shell announced on Sept. 28 that it would cease all exploration activities in the Alaskan Arctic. However, the oil giant had asked the Obama administration in July 2014 to grant a Suspension of Operations for its leases in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. In legal terms, an SOO is a pause in the duration of an exploration lease that allows it to be extended by a time equivalent to that lost when drilling is economically impractical.
The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement then said on Oct. 16 that it had denied the SOO request by the two subsidiaries.BSEE found that Shell had failed to provide a “reasonable schedule” of exploration resumption.
As a general rule, companies can retain marine exploration leases only if they are actively engaged in an effort to find and extract energy resources.
Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. and Shell Offshore Inc. filed an appeal of the BSEE decision with IBLA, the department’s panel of administrative judges, on Dec. 15. The subsidiaries have not yet filed a statement of the reasons they argue justify a reversal of BSEE’s decision.
The Beaufort and Chukchi leases are due to expire in 2017 and 2020.
Conoco-Phillips Co., another giant in the energy industry, has also asked IBLA to force the administration to grant it an SOO for its Arctic leases.