Inupiat entity, conservationists, challenge NPR-A construction project

ConocoPhilips: Project could bring jobs, plus revenue to federal, state, local governments

An Inupiat entity and five allied conservation groups are hoping for a U.S District Court judge to rule by Feb. 1 in favor of a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order to halt winter road construction and gravel mining on Conoco Phillips’ Willow project.

“We’ve asked for a decision by Feb. 1 because ConocoPhillips wants to start building the road on Feb. 2,” said Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska.

Psarianos said Judge Sharon Gleason told Trustees she would try to get them a decision by Feb. 1.

Psarianos is the lead attorney for Trustees in the litigation naming the federal Bureau of Land Management as the defendant and ConocoPhillips Alaska as intervenor-defendant.

According to Siqiniq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic, there are major concerns over ConocoPhillips’ plans for the Willow project, a plan that includes a central processing facility, an airport, a camp, five new drilling pads, a gravel pit, roads and a pipeline connecting them within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Joining Sovereign Inupiat as plaintiffs in the litigation are Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.

ConocoPhillips maintains the Willow master development plan, which was approved by the Trump administration in October, is consistent with competitive oil and gas leasing in the NPR-A authorized by Congress in 1980.

“ConocoPhillips has held oil and gas leases in the NPR-A since the first lease sale in 1999,” said Connor Dunn, asset manager for the proposed Willow project, in a statement issued by the oil company back on Sept. 9, 2019. “We have been carefully and responsibly developing our leasehold within the NPR-A. Our first drill site in NPR-A, CDS, began production in 2015.”

According to ConocoPhillips the project could produce in excess of 100,000 barrels of oil a day, create thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs and contribute substantial revenue to federal, state and local entities.

Maupin sees the situation differently, citing rising health issues, the dismantling of traditional practices and food sources because of oil extraction and industrialization on the Arctic Slope.

“We have experienced the silencing and paternalism of public agencies that are supposed to listen to us fully, to understand and take into consideration our concerns, and to protect the health and well-being of all of us, not just the profit interests of corporations,” she said. “We need the exploitation of the Arctic to stop and the prioritization of our health and well-being to begin again.”

“BLM’s analysis of the Willow master development plan is deeply flawed and does not fully account for the tremendous harm this project would cause to globally significant wildlife habitat and culturally irreplaceable areas,” said David Krause, assistant state director for The Wilderness Society “We will not silently stand by as BLM rubber-stamps destructive, carbon-polluting projects that harm public lands and local communities.”