A coalition of conservation and Alaska Native groups has challenged the Obama administration’s move to allow Shell to begin offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea as early as next summer.
The environmental legal firm Earthjustice filed a suit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday.
The suit, on behalf of the Native Village of Point Hope, Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity and more than a half-dozen other national and Alaska-based conservation groups, challenges the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s decision to allow Shell to go forward with exploration plans.
The groups say Shell's cleanup plans in case of a spill in cold Arctic waters are insufficent and pose an unacceptable risk to subsistence Native communities and wildlife.
“Approving Shell drilling in the Beaufort Sea is irresponsible and risks disaster,” said Caroline Cannon, President of the Native Village of Point Hope in a statement.
Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said Thursdsay that he was confident that courts would validate the exploration plan.
"We think we have put in place the most technically sound environmentally sensitive plan of exploration in the history of North America," he said.
The challenge, he said, was expected.
"At this stage in the game, this is almost part of progress," he said. "You have approvals, you have permits, they're appealed. Hopefully they're adjudicated in a timely manner so you can make investment decisions for the future."
Reporter Ted Land contributed to this report.