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EPA Issues Air Permit to Shell for Drilling Exploration in Alaska's Chuckchi Sea

Release Date: 04/1/2010
Contact Information: Janis Hastings, EPA/Seattle, 206-553-1582, Mark MacIntyre, EPA/Seattle 206-553-7302,

(Seattle – April 1, 2010) Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc. (Shell) has received a “Prevention of Significant Deterioration”(PSD) air quality permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This permit will regulate air emissions from Shell’s Frontier Discoverer drillship and its support vessels during exploratory oil and gas drilling on the outer continental shelf (OCS) above the Arctic Circle in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. The permit covers drilling-related air emissions from July to December each year.

According to Rick Albright, Director of EPA’s Air, Waste & Toxics office in Seattle, the final permit is not only strict and enforceable, but stronger than the originally proposed permit.

“This is a better, stronger permit, thanks to our work with the local community,” said Albright. “Because North Slope Borough communities raised important social and public health concerns, this permit has undergone especially rigorous scrutiny. As a result, we now have a permit with tighter emission limits and more stringent reporting requirements. For example, since the permit was proposed in August, we’ve reduced the allowable limits for sulfur dioxide by 98 percent and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) by nearly 75 percent.”

Air emissions from the Frontier Discoverer’s support fleet of two icebreaker ships and a supply ship will be limited by the permit. Also covered are emissions from the Frontier Discoverer’s oil spill response ship and three response work boats. All the engines, generators and an incinerator on the Frontier Discoverer, are covered by the permit.

Because the drillship operations are considered a “major” source under EPA regulations, the permit must ensure that the operations meet the requirements of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program in addition to the requirements of the OCS regulations.

EPA first proposed the permit for public comment on August 20, 2009 and, after reviewing the public comments, proposed a new modified permit on January 8, 2010.

EPA conducted informational meetings and public hearings in September, 2009 in Barrow and Anchorage and again in Barrow in February, 2010.

After considering the public’s comments on the permit proposed in January, important changes were made, including the following:

  • EPA determined that “Best Available Control Technology” (BACT) should require replacement of the Frontier Discoverer Hydraulic Power Unit (HPU) engines with newer, less polluting “Tier 3” engines. This was not part of the earlier proposal.
  • EPA is now requiring that all first-time testing of engines or other emission units be conducted before the start of the first drilling season. In the previous proposal, the testing was spread out over the first three drilling seasons.
  • EPA has strengthened emission reporting requirements and is requiring better monitoring of deviations from normal permit conditions, which will assure better permit compliance.
  • EPA concluded that the Frontier Discoverer is an OCS source when it attaches to the sea floor in such a way as to begin drilling, rather than just when the first anchor is secured to the sea floor.
The deadline for filing petitions for review of this permit is May 3, 2010.
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For more about EPA’s work to protect air quality, go to:
For an electronic copy of the Shell Permit, go to: