In the Courts

Federal Court Stalls Environmental Activists’ Latest Attempt To End Alaska Oil Project

A federal court stalled environmental groups’ efforts to kill a major Alaska oil project Monday, allowing construction to begin as the litigation proceeds.

The $8 billion Willow drilling project, operated by the energy company ConocoPhillips, was hit with legal challenges from environmental activists just days after the Biden administration granted approval on March 13. A judge denied the activists’ request for a preliminary injunction on Monday, finding they had not “demonstrated that they would be irreparably harmed if the Winter 2023 Construction Activities go forward.”

ConocoPhillips can now continue its planned activities, which includes opening a gravel mine and constructing a gravel road, according to the court documents.

“Alaska’s Congressional delegation has also expressed its unanimous support of the Willow Project and specifically their support for the construction activities proposed for this winter,” District Judge Sharon Gleason noted. “In the amicus brief filed by the Alaska Congressional Delegation and Alaska State Legislature, they assert that ‘[i]t is uncontested that an injunction would kill many Alaskan jobs and deprive Alaskans of direct and indirect economic benefits associated with imminent development activities.”

On March 14, Trustees for Alaska filed the first lawsuit on behalf of environmental groups and Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, arguing the Biden administration failed to consider the project’s full impact on climate change and the caribou population relied upon by Alaska Native communities. Earthjustice, joined by the Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council, filed the second on March 15.

“It’s heartbreaking that ConocoPhillips has been allowed to break ground on Willow before the court has fully assessed whether the project is lawful,” said senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity Kristen Monsell in a statement. “But this case isn’t over, and we’ll keep fighting to protect struggling Arctic wildlife and our climate from this disastrous project. We’re hopeful we’ll get the Willow project’s approval thrown out once again.”

The Willow Project is projected to yield 600 million barrels of oil in 30 years, according to The New York Times.

ConocoPhillips did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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