Judge Upholds Biden Administration’s Approval of the Massive Willow Oil-Drilling Project in Alaska

Anchorage Veterans’ Memorial and ConocoPhillips
Anchorage Veterans’ Memorial in front of the ConocoPhillips head quarters in Alaska. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

Alaska's massive Willow oil project moves forward after judge rejects protests by environmentalists and native tribes. Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy welcomes the District Court Decision.

On November 9th, a federal judge in Alaska upheld the Biden administration’s approval of the massive Willow oil-drilling project on Alaska’s remote North Slope, dismissing two lawsuits by environmental groups and native tribes challenging the decision to approve the Willow Master Development Plan (MDP).

Alaska's Willow Project will be the largest oil development on federal land in decades.

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy is happy about the court’s decision:

“Today’s federal court decision reaffirms that the Willow project is an environmentally responsible energy project in an area Congress specifically designated for oil and gas development,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy in a press release.

“Willow will demonstrate once again that Alaska develops its resources with the most stringent environmental standards in the world. The Willow project will create new jobs, higher revenues, and increase the nation’s overall energy security", the Governor added.

The project is unquestionably in the public interest and must move forward
Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, John Boyle

Combat climate change

It was U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason, who rejected requests from a grassroot Iñupiat group and environmentalists to vacate the project approval. She dismissed their claims against Willow, which is in the federally designated National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The administration's approval of Willow in March angered environmentalists who accused the president of going back on his pledge to fight climate change.

Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, John Boyle, calls the District Court decision "a much needed win for Alaska", referring to the protesters as "extremists":

“Despite efforts by environmental extremists to thwart the project at every turn, the extremely rigorous permitting process to date has now been validated. It is time for litigation to end to protect the thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in state revenue that Willow can bring to Alaskans. The project is unquestionably in the public interest and must move forward", said Boyle.

Significant interests

The company behind the project, ConocoPhillips Alaska, has the right to develop its leases in the reserve “subject to reasonable restrictions and mitigation measures imposed by the federal government,” Gleason wrote according to an Associated Press report.

Governor of Alaska, Mike Dunleavy. (Photo: Alaska Governor office)
Governor of Alaska, Mike Dunleavy. (Photo: Alaska Governor office)
Governor of Alaska, Mike Dunleavy. (Photo: Alaska Governor Office)

The Willow MDP also authorizes ConocoPhillips to construct and operate infrastructure necessary to allow production and transportation to market of oil and gas from its Willow Project leases in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska.

She added that the alternatives analyzed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as part of its review were consistent with the policy objectives for the petroleum reserve and the stated purpose and need of the Willow project.

According to the press release issued on behalf of Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, the State has significant interests in this case due to Alaskas status as a sovereign state, neighboring land manager, regulatory authority, and taxing authority.

“The activities from the Willow Project will provide much needed jobs, subsistence access, billions in revenues, and bolster the nation’s energy security", stated Dunleavy.

Jobs for Alaskans

The enviromental groups that sued over the project raised concerns about planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from Willow and argued that federal agencies failed to consider how increased emissions from the project could affect ice-reliant species such as the polar bear, Arctic ringed seals and bearded seals, which already are experiencing disruptions due to climate change.

Also read (the article continues)

Gleason said an agency environmental review “appropriately analyzed the indirect and cumulative” greenhouse gas emissions impacts of the project.

Attorney General of Alaska,Treg Taylor said that this is a heartening progress for Alaska and for jobs for Alaskans.

“The State is pleased that the Order recognizes the important policy goals of Congress in establishing the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPR-A) for oil extraction”, said Taylor.

The Willow Project approvals followed from years of rigorous environmental reviews and consultations across federal, state, and local levels. ConocoPhillips has agreed to construct up to three boat ramps, tundra access ramps, and gravel pullouts that will benefit subsistence users and the continued health of those communities.

The North Slope Borough, native organizations Arctic Regional Slope Corporation and Kuukpik Corporation, and ConocoPhillips joined in defense of the approvals. The Alaska Congressional Delegation filed an amicus brief in support.

Also read (The Article Continues)