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EPA seeks public comments on revised air quality permits for Shell's Arctic oil exploration activities

Release Date: 07/01/2011
Contact Information: Marianne Holsman, EPA Public Affairs Seattle, 206-553-1237, holsman.marianne@epa.gov

(Seattle - July 1, 2011) Today, EPA released draft air quality permits for Shell Oil Company's exploratory oil drilling operations in Alaska's Arctic Outer Continental Shelf consistent with the work schedule that EPA has been pursuing for several months. This process will allow the public and other key stakeholders to provide important input and feedback on permits needed for the Discover drillship and supporting fleet of icebreakers, oil spill response vessels, and supply ships operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas beginning in the 2012 drilling season.

Shell's proposed exploration drilling operations would emit more than 250 tons of air pollutants a year and therefore, under existing law, must have federal Clean Air Act Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permits. The permits would set limits on air pollution from these vessels. 
 
EPA previously issued the two permits to Shell in March and April of 2010. These permits were then appealed by outside groups to EPA's independent Environmental Appeals Board, which overturned them in December 2010.  EPA Region 10 has since revised the draft permits to address the issues raised by the Appeals Board in light of the outside groups’ complaints.  Among other changes, the revised permits have reduced emissions of most key air pollutants by more than 50 percent from the levels allowed in the 2010 permits. These reductions are largely due to the new NO2 standard that went into effect after the permits were issued last year.

The draft permits are subject to a 30-day public comment period as well as a public hearing before EPA issues final permits.

EPA's air permits ensure compliance with air quality regulations when and if drilling commences, but on their own do not authorize drilling.  BOEMRE is the federal agency that provides authorization to drill in offshore federal waters. Find out more about BOEMRE at:
http://www.boemre.gov/

EPA will accept public comments on the revised draft permits through August 5 and at a public hearing in Barrow, Alaska on August 4.  Final permits will be issued after comments from the public and key stakeholders are reviewed and considered.

The comment period officially begins on July 6. Public comments must be postmarked or emailed to EPA Region 10 by August 5, 2011.  The revised draft permits and supporting information as well as details about the public hearing are available on the web at:
http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/AIRPAGE.NSF/Permits/ocsap/.

EPA Region 10 is currently working on two additional Clean Air Act permits for oil and gas exploration beginning in the 2012 and 2013 drilling seasons.  Shell has also applied for a permit to operate its vessel, Kulluk, in the Beaufort Sea starting in 2012 and ConocoPhillips has applied for a permit for oil and gas exploration activities in the Chukchi Sea starting in 2013.

More information about the Environmental Appeals Board can be found at:

http://www.epa.gov/eab/