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Arctic drilling opponents gain momentum from Gulf oil spill

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"We're worried," says Caroline Cannon, president of the village, in a phone interview. "We don't want to see what happened in the Gulf happen to us - with all the ice in our waters it would be a much bigger nightmare to clean up."

On Thursday lawyers for Point Hope natives and about a dozen environmental groups will argue before the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Portland, Ore. that Shell was never required by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the Department of Interior to develop plans for handling a big spill or blowout in the arctic. The court is expected to issue an accelerated judgment on the case in the next few weeks.

In approving Shell's plans, the MMS adopted Shell's conclusion that "a large oil spill, such as a crude oil release from a blowout, is extremely rare and not considered a reasonably foreseeable impact," the Center for Biological Diversity will argue in court, according to a statement.

The agency concluded that a large spill was "too remote and speculative an occurrence" to warrant analysis, environmental groups said in a May 5 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking him to refuse to grant final permits needed for drilling.

A spokesman for the Department of Interior would not comment on the case. Shell is confident their case is a strong one. "The permit granted to us is quite robust and we expect that MMS will be successful in defending it," said Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell Alaska, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell.

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