Alaska Native and conservation groups have successfully challenged the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA} issuance of clean air permits to Shell Oil to drill and operate in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

The board concluded that the Alaska EPA regional office erred when it relied solely on compliance with the national ambient air quality standard for nitrogen oxide "as sufficient to find that the Alaska Native population would not experience disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects from the permitted activity," said the board in its decision, which was issued last week.

"Having found clear error in two aspects of the region's decisions, the board remands both the Chukchi and Beaufort permits to the region," the federal appeals board said.

The three groups that challenged the permits were the Center for Biological Diversity; Earthjustice, on behalf of several conservation groups; and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope.

"This decision shows that the Obama administration has been too eager to permit drilling in the Arctic without considering the true environmental consequences. It's time for the administration to put the brakes on its headlong rush to drill in the fragile Arctic Ocean," said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska Director of the Center for Biological Diversity in Anchorage.

The permits issued by the EPA authorize Shell Oil, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell plc, to construct and operate the 514-foot Frontier Discoverer drillship and its air emission units and to conduct other air pollutant emitting activities for the purpose of exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the North Slope of Alaska. The producer is seeking to drill three exploratory wells in the Arctic seas.

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