A federal judge on Monday rejected an appeal from environmentalists to temporarily halt federal approval of ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil field development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, clearing the way for the company to begin work on the $7 billion project.
Trustees for Alaska, a nonprofit that works to use the law to protect Alaska’s wildlands, promptly filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, along with a motion for an injunction pending appeal with the U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Tuesday.
The filing came in response to the decision issued by U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason, which cleared the way for ConocoPhillips to begin building a gravel road for the Willow project area. Gleason said she found the injunction sought inappropriate because plaintiffs represented by Trustees for Alaska would not be irreparably harmed by building roads and a gravel mine.
Gleason did not, however, speak to whether the lawsuits were likely to succeed in the future.
A spokesperson for ConocoPhillips stated that the project would provide “meaningful opportunities” for the state of Alaska, its Native Alaska communities and domestic energy production for the nation.
Trustees for Alaska had sought on behalf of Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, the Wilderness Society, Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club and Environment America to stop the winter road construction as the litigation makes its way through the court system.
“Corporate and political interests continue to sacrifice places like Teshekpuk Lake and communities like Nuiqsut for their benefit,” said Siqiniq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic. “Today we continue to fight in court for our communities, the land, and future generations.”
According to Bridget Psarianos, lead staff attorney with the Trustees for Alaska, “there are profound legal problems with Willow’s approval and it’s essential to stop on-the-ground harm while the case gets heard.”
“The district court found in our prior 2020 lawsuit that winter road construction and gravel mining would do immediate and permanent harm to land and the community of Nuiqsut,” Psarianos said. “It’s heartbreaking for all who want to protect local communities and prevent more devastating climate impacts in the Arctic and around the world to know that blasting and road building is happening for Willow despite the legal problems with this project.”
Karlin Itchoak, the senior regional director for Alaska for The Wilderness Society, also warned of environmental implications.
“Willow would result in the release of more than 280 million metric tons of greenhouse gases over its 30-year lifespan,” said Itchoak. “The Biden administration needs to thoroughly review its practices and change the way it approaches drilling for oil on public lands if it has any hope of meeting its own commitments and leading on the kind of fundamental shift in energy policy that a livable future demands.”
The Biden administration gave its approval for the Willow project on March 12.
Residents of the Inupiat community of Nuiqsut, located just a few miles away, would be subject to increased air pollution, repeated blasting for gravel mining and continued rapid industrialization that would lead to significant physical and mental health stresses, according to the Trustees of Alaska said.
The plaintiffs, in individual comments, also criticized the project.
“Make no mistake,” said Andy Moderow, senior director of policy for the Alaska Wilderness League,
“We will never stop fighting to address climate change and protect biodiversity in America’s Arctic.”