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Lawsuits & Litigation

Environmental Groups Sue to Stop Willow Project

— March 15, 2023

The lawsuit alleges that ConcoPhillips’ Willow Project on Alaska’s North Slope is illegal.

Environmental advocacy organizations and indigenous rights groups have filed two separate lawsuits challenging the legality of the Willow Project on Alaska’s North Slope.

According to CNN, ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project is soon scheduled to begin drilling oil in the National Petroleum Reserve, an area owned and administered by the federal government.

The reserve, notes CNN, is estimated to hold up to the equivalent of 600 million barrels of oil.

However, it would take years for the National Petroleum Reserve’s oil to begin reaching the market, since companies have yet to establish even a rudimentary extraction infrastructure.

Nevertheless, the Willow Project has attracted increasing scrutiny in recent years. Activists have, for instance, sent more than 1 million letters to the White House demanding that the initiative be scrapped.

The two lawsuits, writes CNN, are the latest escalation in the years-long pushback to the project’s pilot stages.

Earlier this week, Earthjustice and the Trustees for Alaska law firm filed separate complaints against the Biden administration’s Department of Interior, the federal Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

In their complaint, Earthjustice lawyers wrote that the Willow Project’s authorizations are contingent on an erroneous interpretation of the Endangered Species Act.

The approvals, argues Earthjustice, “are unlawful, because they fail to consider the impact of carbon emissions on threatened species.”

Image via GDJ/Pixabay. (CCA-BY-0.0). Public domain.

The defendant agencies allegedly “failed to consider how the increased greenhouse gas emissions from Willow may affect the survival and recovery of these ice-dependent species or their critical habitat.”

However, political proponents of the project say that the Biden administration’s environmental analysis of Willow’s probable impacts reinforce ConocoPhillips’ argument.

“Even with [modifications], I think it’s fair to say that the work from [the Department of the Interior], working with the other agencies and Conoco—I’m told that everyone feels that we’ve got a very strong case that will withstand the legal challenge,” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), told reporters. “But we’ve got to get moving to the court.”

CNN notes that, even if the courts permit the Willow Project to proceed, ConocoPhillips must rely on primitive ice roads to transport and erect drilling infrastructure.

Under current conditions, supplies can only be moved to the National Petroleum Reserve during the winter months, with this year’s opportunity ending sometime in April.

If Earthjustice and its allies are able to secure an injunction—even if temporary—they could delay the project’s implementation by nearly another year.


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