Sierra Club Sues to Stop Offshore Drilling, and Guess Who Is Funding the Defense

Shell Oil wants to drill exploratory wells off the Alaska coast in the Beaufort and Chuckchi seas. The area in which Shell wants to drill may turn out to be America's largest offshore oil find in decades. The company paid the US government over $2 billion in 2005 and 2008 for rights to drill off the outer-continental shelf, and spent the ensuing years clearing regulatory hurdle after regulatory hurdle.

But just as Shell prepares to sink its first wells this month, along comes the big green job killing machine. The Sierra Club is leading a consortium of environmental groups that has mounted a last-second lawsuit aimed at stopping the wells. The lawsuit seeks to undo the permits for future drilling seasons by challenging the government's oil spill recovery plans. The groups do not name Shell Oil in the suit, and that is by design. More on that in a moment.

Shell has a long record of safe and sound deepwater drilling. Alaskans want Shell to be able to drill, because it will create jobs for the state's economy. If the find is as large as experts believe, it could rival the remaining reserves in the Gulf of Mexico. The Shell drilling could create 55,000 jobs for Alaska, while enhancing America's energy security and independence.

Here's another kicker. The offshore drilling that Shell is proposing will also inform how future development of the area might proceed. Shell is working with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to study the ocean, coastal areas and climate in the Arctic. According to the NOAA pres release, "In 2011, Shell, Statoil, and ConocoPhillips signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NOAA to share high-quality data to enhance private-public sector collaboration. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said 'This innovative partnership will expand NOAA’s access to important data, enhance our understanding of the region and improve the United States’ ability to manage critical environmental issues.'"

But the biggest kicker of all is who is ultimately paying for the lawsuit. Sierra Club's group filed the lawsuit not against Shell, which has deep pockets and would be expected to defend itself vigorously in court, but against the US Department of the Interior. A little known US law called the Equal Access to Justice Act, signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, allows the groups to use lawsuits against government as revenue sources. When they sue, the government has to incur the costs of defending itself against the lawsuits, and also picks up the expenses for the groups suing the government. No one even keeps track of how much money the government has ended up spending on such lawsuits.

PJTV teamed up with the Washington Examiner in September 2010 to look at how Big Green games the system, costs the US taxpayer billions and kills jobs while keeping energy prices artificially high. We looked at where groups like Sierra get their money. They get much of it from taxpayers.