Groups sue Obama administration over drilling approval

WASHINGTON Thu Jun 9, 2011 7:14pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Environmental activists are suing the Obama administration over its approval of a Royal Dutch Shell Plc plan to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

The suit, filed one day after Exxon Mobil Corp announced two big new oil discoveries in the Gulf, could signal a lengthy fight over the resumption of drilling near the site of last year's BP Plc oil spill.

Oil exploration in the Gulf was halted after the spill, though drilling has gradually resumed since the administration began approving new permits in February.

Shell's plan called for five exploratory wells more than 7,000 feet under water and three previously approved wells about 72 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

Environmental law firm Earthjustice, which filed suit on behalf of several groups, claims the Obama administration's approval ignored relevant concerns involved with deepwater drilling.

"It is as if the government regulators have learned nothing from the BP disaster," Earthjustice attorney David Guest said in a statement.

The groups want the Eleventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals to overrule the approval.

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which approved the Shell plan, declined to comment.

Shell said in a statement that the filings "fail to take into account the comprehensive nature of the approved exploration plan" and that the company would work with the Obama administration to defend it.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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