The Willow Oil-Drilling Project Moves Forward In Alaska Despite Conservation Groups Fight Against ConocoPhillips In Court

Environmental groups intend to challenge today’s federal court ruling that the Willow oil-drilling project in Alaska’s Western Arctic can proceed. A federal court in Alaska has sided with project developer ConocoPhillips and the federal Bureau of Land Management in a lawsuit the groups brought on in March.

The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace USA, with the Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council.

The groups plan to file an appeal of the ruling in the Ninth Circuit Court. Environmental groups argue that the Interior’s approval failed to satisfy federal legal requirements. The court also ruled today on a second lawsuit, filed by Trustees for Alaska, challenging the Willow Project on behalf of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic and others.

As reported by WAN, the Biden administration approved the Willow Project back in March which allows ConocoPhillips to drill for oil in the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s Northern slope. Sadly, despite the administration announcing in September that they were taking significant steps to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and more than 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, it appears the Willow Project is still moving forward. More than 4.6 million people petitioned against the projects approval.

The massive oil project would release carbon-dioxide emissions equivalent to that of driving two million extra cars for the next 30 years, while causing devastating harm to the environment, Arctic wildlife, and nearby people who depend on the land for subsistence.

Ahead of the Interior’s approval of the Willow Project, ConocoPhillips, the company behind the project, claimed to investors that the initiative would become the “next great Alaska hub” that could open as much as three billion additional barrels of oil in nearby prospects that can only be accessed with Willow infrastructure in place.

Willow sparked fierce opposition from millions of people, including a youth climate movement and leadership from the nearby village of Nuiqsut. Opponents expressed concerns that Willow significantly and symbolically undermined U.S. national climate goals of slashing carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050.

“This is a really sad decision for Arctic wildlife and the climate,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Willow Project poses a clear threat to people and ecosystems, but the Biden administration approved this carbon bomb without properly accounting for that potential damage. Willow will add massive fossil-fuel pollution to the atmosphere in the midst of a climate emergency and disrupt habitat for countless Arctic animals. We’ll do everything in our power to keep fighting this nonsensical, harmful project.”

“While today’s ruling is disappointing, we are entirely confident in our claims, and plan to appeal to the higher court,” said Erik Grafe, Deputy Managing Attorney in Earthjustice’s Alaska regional office. “Beyond the illegality of Willow’s approval, the Interior’s decision to greenlight the project in the first place moved us in the opposite direction of our national climate goals in the face of the worsening climate crisis.”

“We are extremely disappointed in today’s decision, which will have tragic consequences for Arctic communities, wildlife, and our planet as a whole,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director at Friends of the Earth. “But the fight is far from over. We maintain confidence in our legal claims that the Interior has unlawfully ignored the significant environmental harms stemming from Willow. We won’t stop until this climate disaster of a project is dead once and for all.”

“Although we are disappointed in today’s ruling, we will never stop fighting to protect Alaskan wildlife and landscapes from the Biden administration’s wrongheaded and unlawful decision to approve the Willow Project,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director at Defenders of Wildlife. “The Willow Project is wholly incompatible with a clean, just energy future that protects polar bears, people, and the planet.”

“The science is crystal clear: we cannot afford any new oil and gas projects — much less a monster project like Willow — if we want to avoid the worst impacts of global warming,” said Tim Donaghy, research manager at Greenpeace USA. “Today’s decision is a blow to everyone who spoke up and opposed this reckless project. The leadership of the Biden Administration is now more vital than ever. We call on President Biden to stop approving these disastrous projects that will only drive us further into climate catastrophe.”

“As the public has shown in its fierce outcry against Willow, business as usual for the fossil fuel industry is untenable in the midst of a warming planet,” said Bobby McEnaney, director of the dirty energy project at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Willow, which by design requires keeping the melting Arctic tundra cool just to enable drilling, symbolizes the absurdity and recklessness of expanded drilling in the Arctic. We’ll continue to urge the Interior to take proactive, meaningful steps to avoid fossil fuel induced climate disaster in the Arctic.”

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