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Shell clears EPA hurdle to Alaska Arctic drilling

Posted: October 21, 2011 - 2:37pm  |  Updated: October 23, 2011 - 12:11am

Shell Offshore Inc. is one stop closer to oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Alaska Arctic. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 issued a final air permit to Shell on Oct. 21. The permit is one of several federal authorizations the oil company needs to explore for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Beaufort Sea starting in July 2012.

The permit authorizes air pollutant emissions during Shell’s exploration drilling with the Kulluk drill rig and a fleet of icebreakers for support, oil spill response vessels, and supply ships for up to 120 days each year. The permit limits Shell’s emissions of most air pollutants to less than 250 tons per year, which is the “major source” permit threshold in the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program.

“This is great news for Alaska and for our country,” said Sen. Mark Begich in a prepared release. “Oil and gas development in the Arctic is a hat trick for our economy — generating revenues, economic activity and good jobs. EPA and Shell have done a good job coming to agreement on a permit that will significantly reduce emissions from the Kulluk and its support fleet. I applaud both in raising the bar to responsibly develop Alaska’s tremendous Arctic oil and gas resources.”

EPA’s final permit significantly reduces the potential air pollution from Shell’s drilling operations and protects the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, standards required by the Clean Air Act for widespread pollutants from numerous and diverse sources considered harmful to public health and the environment. The six regulated pollutants are carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide.

Strict pollution controls in the permit require some engines to include selective catalytic reduction units and catalytic oxidation-reduction units, use of low-sulfur diesel fuel fleet-wide and limits on operational hours.

The permit reduces Shell’s potential emissions of sulfur dioxide from 833 to 10 tons per year, nitrogen oxide from 2,339 to 240 tons per year, carbon monoxide from 855 to 200 tons per year, and greenhouse gases from 141,487 to 80,000 tons per year.

EPA Region 10 air permits ensure compliance with air quality regulations during drilling operations but on their own do not authorize drilling. The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is the federal agency that provides authorization to drill.

Public appeals for review of this permit must be received by the Environmental Appeals Board no later than Nov. 28. Information about filing an appeal can be found at www.epa.gov

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