I updated the story on Thursday, July 7, 2011.
Now, out of the blue, just hitting the wires in the last hour or so (9:30 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 19, 2011), it is being reported that the EPA will grant Shell an air-quality permit so it can drill in the Arctic.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Monday it has issued final air-quality permits to Royal Dutch Shell PLC to drill for oil and natural gas off the coast of Alaska, removing a longtime obstacle to the company's Arctic offshore drilling plans.
The permits will allow Shell to operate the Discoverer drill ship and a support fleet of icebreakers, oil-spill response vessels and supply ships for up to 120 days each year in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea Outer Continental Shelf starting in 2012, the EPA said.
The EPA permits have been a major hurdle to the company's Alaska offshore drilling plans, on which the company has invested more than $3.5 billion. Legal challenges and other regulatory hurdles also have delayed the company's plans.
In 2010, the EPA issued similar permits to Shell, but Alaska native villagers and environmental groups filed appeals opposing those permits with the EPA's independent Environmental Appeals Board, saying pollution from the drillships and support vessels would harm residents and wildlife.
In December, the appeals board invalidated the permits and sent them back to the EPA to be revised.
The new permits require Shell to cut emissions of soot and nitrogen dioxide from its fleet by more than 50% compared to the levels allowed in the 2010 permits, the EPA said. Shell will use new emissions controls to meet new limits on nitrogen dioxide that went into effect this year, the agency said.