We just sued Interior for illegal, premature approval of massive Arctic oil and gas project
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We just sued Interior for illegal, premature approval of massive Arctic oil and gas project

We’re taking the Interior Department, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court for unlawfully and prematurely authorizing the ConocoPhillips Willow Master Plan despite its known harms to people and wildlife.  

Industrialization threatens Arctic people and wildlife such as polar bears. Photo by Bridget Psarianos.

BLM approved the Willow proposal in late October, despite the lack of a permit application and despite serious concerns from the public about the agency rushing the public process during a pandemic. The proposal would further expand ConocoPhillips’ oil extraction operations in the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska. Although agency documents acknowledge some of the project’s intense, long-term and harmful impacts on Arctic communities in and around the region, it requires no meaningful measures to reduce or prevent those harms.

The people of Nuiqsut in particular would endure increased pollution, incessant and loud blasting, and rapid industrialization that degrades the physical, mental, and sociocultural health of local people. 

The deadly consequences of oil

As Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic, noted, “The true cost of oil and gas extraction can be seen in rising health-related issues, respiratory illnesses, and rare cancer clusters all over the Arctic Slope.”

The Prudhoe Bay haze is air pollution. Photo by Florian Schulz.

For the agency to grant approval in advance of a complete project application and without requiring effective and responsible mitigation to stop or reduce harm, enables “ConocoPhillips to drain more oil from the Arctic while putting all the burdens on Arctic communities,” said Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney for Trustees for Alaska. “BLM’s unjust process to reach this decision disrespects local people while ignoring the agency’s legal obligations to serve the public interest, to fully consider environmental impacts, and to engage in an informed and transparent decision-making process.”

Fossil fuels drive the climate crisis

The Willow project would significantly expand ConocoPhillips’ extensive oil and gas extraction in Arctic Alaska by constructing and operating a new oil and gas processing facility, massive satellite drill pads with up to fifty wells on each pad, a spider web of gravel roads, a new airstrip, pipelines, and two gravel mines within a protected river setback. The megaproject requires barging and delivery of giant modules over a Colville River ice bridge that was proposed late in the process and about which there is very little study or information.

Increasing industrialization of the Arctic will drive more climate suffering in a region already carrying the burden of climate and extraction impacts, such as coastal erosion, flooding, sea ice loss, melting permafrost, fish and wildlife die-offs, disrupted caribou and bird migrations, the degradation of air and water quality, and the resulting impacts on food access, community stability, and cultural and public health.

Agencies violate multiple laws

The lawsuit charges BLM and Interior with violating the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and also charges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing the Willow project to proceed despite projected injuries or deaths to polar bear cubs.

Trustees filed the suit in Anchorage, Alaska, on behalf of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.     Find out more by reading the press release and the lawsuit’s complaint.