Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Whose Minding Gulf Coast Beaches?
Lawsuit challenges next big offshore drilling plan

TAMPA, FL - Gulf coast environmental watchdogs have filed a legal challenge in the 11th Federal Circuit Court in Atlanta, Georgia. They contend the U.S. government has conducted a flawed environmental risk assessment of Shell Oil Company's plan to drill for oil in Gulf of Mexico deep water near the site of BP's catastrophic 2010 well blowout.

Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN). They contend that Shell's drilling plan is not sufficient to protect communities from another major oil spill along the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

GRN's Darden Rice explains why they're challenging the government's conclusions.

"Most of their risk data came from shallow wells, for the most part. Shallow wells are far less risky to operate."

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved Shell's plan after concluding that "an accidental spill is not very likely to occur."

Rice says Florida environmentalists want drilling proponents to stick to the facts, and leave politics out of the discussion.

"That means staying away from the intellectual dishonesty of claims that drilling in state waters would have anything to do with relieving high gas prices, or that it would bring Florida jobs."

The Gulf Restoration Network says its review of Shell's plan shows that a spill at the company's proposed drilling site could leak six times the amount of crude that was spilled in the BP disaster, affecting communities from western Louisiana to Panama City, Florida.

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