Willow Project Lawsuit: Environmental Group Files Complaint Seeking to Block Alaska Oil Drilling Project


Environmental and Indigenous groups file two separate lawsuits challenging Willow Project after alaska’s north slope Biden administration approves oil drilling company on Monday.

ConocoPhillips’ Willow project plans to extract oil from the federally owned National Petroleum Reserve. The area where the project is planned holds as much as 600 million barrels of oil, but because the project has not yet been built, it will take years for that oil to reach the market.

The item is galvanized The recent surge of online activism against it, including more than a million letters to the White House protesting the project, and Change.org website A petition with more than 3 million signatures.

Environmental law group Earthjustice and law firm Trustees for Alaska filed complaints against the Biden administration’s Department of the Interior and its top officials, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies.

The Willow Project has faced similar lawsuits before; in 2021, a federal judge in Alaska ruled that the Trump administration’s environmental analysis of the project did not meet standards and revoked its permit. Environmental groups and their lawyers are hoping for a similar outcome this time.

The groups are asking a judge for an injunction that, if granted, could halt the project.

In two complaints filed Tuesday and Wednesday morning, the groups argued that the Biden administration’s environmental analysis still violates federal law, including the National Environmental Policy Act. The groups argue that the analysis, which concluded the project would not have a significant impact on the environment or the climate crisis, is deeply flawed.

The complaints link the project’s potential climate impacts to threatened species, including polar bears, that inhabit the area where the Willow project will be built. Lawyers for Earthjustice wrote that the Endangered Species Act consultations upon which Willow’s approval was based “are illegal because they do not take into account the impact of carbon emissions on threatened species.”

The federal agency “failed to consider how Willow’s increased greenhouse gas emissions might affect the survival and recovery of these ice-dependent species or their critical habitats,” the lawyers wrote.

A spokesman for the Home Office declined to comment on the complaints.

Supporters of the project argue that the Biden administration’s environmental analysis provides them with a strong legal basis to move forward.

“Even with the modifications, I think it’s fair to say that from [Interior], working with other agencies and ConocoPhillips — I hear everyone thinks we have a very strong case that can survive a legal challenge,” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told reporters recently “But we have to go to court. ”

The lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court for the State of Alaska, where a federal judge revoked ConocoPhillips’ federal willow license in 2021 due to inadequate federal environmental reviews conducted by the Trump administration.

Judge Sharon Gleason said at the time that the review did not include an adequate analysis of the project’s potential global warming emissions, nor did it detail the project’s likely impact on polar bears.

It was unclear Wednesday whether Gleason would be assigned a new case.

The lawsuit, filed by the Alaska Trustees of Alaska, makes similar arguments, noting that the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that Willow would not endanger the “continuing existence” of polar bears or destroy their critical habitat. The suit says Fish and Wildlife “failed to demonstrate a reasonable connection between the facts found and its conclusion that it was not dangerous.”

A ConocoPhillips spokesman said in a statement that the Biden administration’s final environmental impact statement, released in February, “addressed deficiencies in the previous environmental analysis.”

“we believe [Bureau of Land Management] and partner agencies have undertaken a thorough process to meet all legal requirements,” a ConocoPhillips spokesman said.

Environmental groups and ConocoPhillips are racing against the legal case and the threat of a ban.

Because ConocoPhillips has to rely on ice roads to build Willow’s major infrastructure, it can only be done during the colder winter months — which could end sometime in April. Construction could be delayed by at least a year if the group can win an injunction or undo the record of the Biden administration’s decision.

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