EPA Issues Final Air Permit for Shell Arctic Drilling Exploration

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The Environmental Protection Agency (officially issued the final air permit to Shell Offshore on Friday so the company can drill in the Arctic for natural gas and oil.

* The air permit authorizes Shell to emit air pollutants during their oil and natural gas exploration ventures.

* The permits cover Shell's Kulluk drilling rig, a support fleet of icebreakers, supply ships and oil spill response ships for up to 120 days each year during operations.

* Under the details of the permit, specifically the Outer Continental Shelf minor source/Title V air operating permit, Shell must emit fewer than 250 tons of air pollutants each year.

* The agency's final permit drastically reduces the amount of air pollution Shell can emit during drilling and exploration operations and strictly protects the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

* The limits were significantly dropped by the EPA, including reducing sulfur dioxide emissions from 833 to 200 tons per year and greenhouse gases from 141,487 to 80,000 tons per year.

* To meet these requirements, Shell will have to use low-sulfur fuel in every engine, as well as implement selective catalytic reduction units in some of the fleet's engines.

* The announcement follows the EPA's announcement in September in which the agency issued two major source Prevention of Significant Deterioration air permits.

* According to Yahoo! News, the EPA and Shell reached an agreement on the company's arctic drilling permits earlier this year after hitting several legal roadblocks.

* As of May, Shell had invested $2 billion on drilling leases alone and an additional $4 billion in developing exploration plans.

* Shell's Arctic drilling ventures will occur offshore in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, which lie just north of Alaska.

* ConocoPhillips recently withdrew its permit application for the Outer Continental Shelf Title V air permit but is expected to reapply in December.

*KTUU reported the EPA permit approval is one of the last steps that will allow Shell to begin drilling in 2012.

* The EPA's Environmental Appeals Board is also allowing the public to appeal the issuing of the permit no later than Nov. 28, which could ultimately slow Shell from drilling in the Arctic for oil and gas as soon as next year.

Rachel Krech provides an in-depth look at current environmental issues and local Chicago news stories. As a college student from the Chicago suburbs pursuing two science degrees, she applies her knowledge and passion to both topics to garner further public awareness.

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