EPA Revises Shell Drilling Permit near Alaska

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a revised minor air quality permit to Shell Offshore, Inc. to regulate air emissions from the Kulluk floating drilling rig and its support vessels to conduct exploratory oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf of the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska, according to a July 19 press release.

According to Rick Albright, director of EPA’s Air, Waste & Toxics office in Seattle, the agency is satisfied that Shell’s permit application met all EPA requirements.

“This project has undergone extraordinary scrutiny,” said Albright. “Because local communities in the North Slope Borough have expressed a wide range of important social and public health concerns, we’ve taken an extra hard look at the complete application package. We believe that from an air quality standpoint, this project, as permitted, will meet all health-based ambient air quality standards.”

EPA conducted informational meetings and public hearings in three North Slope communities (Nuiqsut, Kaktovik and Barrow) between March 25 and 27.

Shell’s revised permit will limit emissions of any single air pollutant to 245 tons per year at each exploratory operation, which includes a single planned well and any of its associated replacement or relief wells. Above those limits, the project would require a "major” source permit, which requires a more rigorous permitting process and limits based on the best available control technology.

According to EPA’s Albright, another important step in the permit process involves the recent listing of the polar bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

“While we have issued this revised permit to Shell today, it does not become effective until consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding Endangered Species Act protection for the polar bear has been completed.”

The deadline for filing petitions for review of the revised permit is July 21.

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