Published: March 4, 2012
WASHINGTON — The oil giant Shell filed suit in federal court in Alaska last week against a dozen environmental groups, employing a rare — and rarely successful — legal gambit in an effort to pre-empt anticipated legal challenges to its plans to begin exploration in the Arctic Ocean this summer.
Was the unusual maneuver an act of bravado, even desperation, by a company fearful that it might be thwarted again in its efforts to begin drilling in the seabed off Alaska’s North Slope?
Or was it, as Shell contends, a mark of confidence that the company had finally put in place a plan that could satisfy all the legal, regulatory and environmental requirements to start exploiting one of the last great untapped oil and gas reservoirs in North America?
Marvin E. Odum, Shell’s president for the United States, said in an interview that he was “highly confident” that the company’s plan for preventing and responding to an oil spill would survive any legal scrutiny. He said the company had filed the suit in the hopes of speeding up the judicial review of the plan that will come if and when the environmental groups — who have challenged Shell at every step of the process — file suit.
Mr. Odum said the Obama administration had made clear that it would support the company’s plans to drill the first of six exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea starting in July, once it has met all of the government’s requirements.