Federal Judge Revokes Permits for Major Alaska Oil Project

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.
August 19, 2021 Updated: August 19, 2021

A federal judge said on Aug. 18 that the U.S. government failed to properly conduct environmental reviews for a multibillion-dollar oil project in Alaska and has voided permits issued for the drilling.

Work on ConocoPhillips’s Willow oil project, which could produce up to 160,000 barrels of oil per day if carried out, was halted because of the judge’s order to redo the reviews.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason, an Obama appointee, said reviews conducted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) violated federal law because they excluded foreign greenhouse gas emissions from an analysis of alternatives.

Those alternatives were also wrongly developed “based on the view that ConocoPhillips had the right to extract all possible oil and gas from its leases,” she wrote in the 110-page ruling.

Environmental groups sued the bureau last year, alleging the government didn’t perform a thorough, transparent, and careful analysis of potential impacts of the project, which was set to be constructed in the National Petroleum Reserve.

Gleason sided with the groups, finding a biological opinion the service offered, which said the project probably wouldn’t jeopardize polar bears or negatively impact polar bears’ critical habitat, was “arbitrary and capricious.”

“FWS contemplated that at least some biologically significant disturbances of polar bears would occur distinct from hazing, but FWS nonetheless quantified that non-lethal take of polar bears at zero. This constitutes error and is therefore arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act, Gleason wrote.

Defendants were told to move forward consistent with the opinion.

“This is a huge deal,” Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of the Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the Anchorage Daily News. “This will actually stop the entire project, they will have to do everything over again.”

The Department of Interior, which includes BLM and FWS, told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that “in a lengthy decision, the district court identified a number of issues in the environmental reviews and approvals issued in 2020.”

The department is analyzing the ruling.

ConocoPhillips officials didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

The project was approved during the Trump administration late last year. The Biden administration defended it in court.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican who was an intervening defendant, said the ruling “from a judge trying to shelve a major oil project on American soil does one thing: outsources production to dictatorships and terrorist organizations.”

“This is a horrible decision. We are giving America over to our enemies piece by piece. The Willow project would power America with 160,000 barrels a day, provide 1000s of family-supporting jobs, and greatly benefit the people of Alaska,” he said in a statement.

Republican state Sens. Josh Revak and Peter Micciche also criticized the ruling.

“As a world-leader in environmentally responsible resource development, Alaska should not be held hostage by a small group of litigious environmental activists. I encourage an appeal of this decision to a higher court capable of a broader, more balanced view,” Micciche said in a statement.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.