A federal judge in Anchorage Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit aimed at preventing Royal Dutch Shell plc and BP plc from conducting seismic exploration for oil in Alaska's Arctic waters.

Environmentalists and the Native Village of Point Hope sued the companies, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Minerals Management Service, alleging that the agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act when they permitted the companies' activities. However, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline ruled in favor of the agencies, which issued the permits allowing seismic exploration during summer and fall. The permits do not allow drilling, just exploration.

The plaintiffs claimed vibrations from the seismic testing could harm marine mammals.

"As the court previously found in related cases, the balance of hardships weighs in favor of defendants who have invested significant time and expense in preparing for the scheduled activities," Beistline wrote. "Moreover, the public interest in energy development favors upholding the permits. To conclude otherwise would require the court to engage in multiple levels of speculation regarding animal migration and economics, and to conclude that existing federal regulations would not effectively address plaintiffs' environmental concerns."

A BP spokesman told NGI, "This decision confirms the care we have taken in following the law and protecting the environment." A Shell spokesman declined comment when asked about the case by Bloomberg. A lawyer with Earthjustice, which represented the environmental groups, told the news service an appeal of the ruling will be considered.

While the latest action involves seismic exploration, Shell last month said it was suspending drilling plans in the Beaufort Sea offshore Alaska through the rest of this year because of a separate lawsuit filed by several environmental groups, area stakeholders and the North Slope Borough. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco last August blocked Shell's drilling, and it has yet to issue a ruling on whether Shell may proceed (see Daily GPI, June 23).

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