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Murkowski Welcomes EPA's Revised Air Permits for Shell

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a proponent of drilling off the Alaska coast, Friday embraced the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to release draft air quality permits for Shell Oil to drill exploratory wells in Alaska's Arctic waters.

"This represents a positive step in what has been a long and frustrating process [for Shell]. I'm hopeful that the EPA's process will work this time, and I strongly encourage Alaskans to get involved by submitting comments for the record to the agency," she said.

Shell, the leading acreage holder offshore Alaska, is now in the sixth year of a 10-year lease that it has been unable to explore due in part to EPA's failure to process valid air permit applications, Murkowski said.

The EPA previously issued Shell air permits in the spring of 2010, but they were overturned on appeal by the agency's Environmental Appeals Board (EAB). The company shelved its drilling plans for this year after objections to its air quality permits were filed with the EAB (see Daily GPI, Jan. 5).

The EPA is making the draft air quality permits available for a 30-day comment period and public hearing before issuing final permits, Murkowski said.

"Alaska's offshore resources represent our greatest potential to develop the energy we currently rely on to drive our economy. While we must ensure development is done responsibly, we must also have a regulatory process that provides companies willing to invest in our economy assurance that their applications will be processed in a timely manner," she said.

In an attempt to prevent other companies from getting ensnared in the permitting process, the House recently passed legislation that would force the EPA to act on exploratory air permits within a six-month period and would limit the ability of opponents to use the agency's EAB to invalidate the permits for offshore exploration, both offshore Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico (see Daily GPI, June 24). Murkowski has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

In Alaska it is estimated that 27.9 billion bbl of oil and 122 Tcf of gas could be developed offshore, according to the National Ocean Industries Association.

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