NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

Big climate win! ConocoPhillips’ “Willow” Arctic oil drilling scheme stopped by judge

Today, a fed­er­al judge deter­mined that a pro­posed drilling ven­ture on Alaska’s North Slope was improp­er­ly green­lit by the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment in a big vic­to­ry for cli­mate jus­tice. The rul­ing nix­es the devel­op­ment per­mits approved by the Trump regime, which were not with­drawn by the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion, stop­ping the drilling scheme from mov­ing for­ward for at least the time being:

In a writ­ten order, U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge Sharon Glea­son said the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice incor­rect­ly approved the Wil­low oil project, which could pro­duce more than 160,000 bar­rels of oil per day from the Nation­al Petro­le­um Reserve-Alas­ka, west of Prud­hoe Bay.

The project has been seen by its devel­op­er, Cono­coPhillips, as part of a “renais­sance” in North Slope oil devel­op­ment. Sev­er­al con­ser­va­tion groups sued the BLM in Novem­ber, say­ing the agency under­es­ti­mat­ed the plan’s harm to wildlife, among oth­er factors.

“This is a huge deal,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Sov­er­eign Inu­pi­at for a Liv­ing Arc­tic, the lead plain­tiff in the lawsuit.

“This will actu­al­ly stop the entire project, they will have to do every­thing over again,” she said.

It would be bet­ter for the Earth, of course, if they did­n’t — our cli­mate can’t afford more projects like “Wil­low” — but Big Oil rarely gives up so eas­i­ly. This court case is like­ly to con­tin­ue. But the good news is, at least for now, Cono­coPhillips can’t press for­ward with its plans to fur­ther exploit Alaska’s North Slope.

And that’s good news for our plan­et and the future of Alaska.

“Alas­ka Native peo­ples, as the first stew­ards of this land, were some of the first to notice the effects of cli­mate [dam­age] on our most valu­able resources. We see the impact on whales, seals, and polar bears across the North Slope, forests through­out the Inte­ri­or, and salmon runs through­out the coastal south,” a group of young Alaskans wrote in a guest essay ear­li­er this month.

“In every cor­ner of Alas­ka, it’s evi­dent that coastal ero­sion caus­es entire vil­lages to relo­cate, green­house gas­es acid­i­fy oceans and threat­en fish stock col­laps­es, and Arc­tic warm­ing is three times faster than the glob­al aver­age,” they observed, allud­ing to how lit­tle time is left to change course.

“Alaskan ways of life, as well as indus­tries from seafood to tourism, stand to suf­fer. Even though not all our ances­tors lived on these lands, our descen­dants might — and we owe it to them and our­selves to ensure this incred­i­ble place we all call home sur­vives to see them.

Alaska’s Repub­li­can elect­ed offi­cials, like the char­ac­ters in The Lorax, only see lost dol­lar signs. They care about short-term prof­its and lit­tle else.

“Alas­ka resource devel­op­ment pays the bills for pub­lic safe­ty, edu­ca­tion and the health and well-being of all Alaskans,” grum­bled State Sen­a­tor Josh Revak. “This rul­ing is heart­break­ing for the hard-work­ing men and women in the industry.”

Revak’s com­ments are a tac­it acknowl­edge that Alas­ka is seri­ous­ly addict­ed to oil mon­ey and has neglect­ed to devel­op sus­tain­able sources of rev­enue to sup­port the state’s essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices. Dev­as­tat­ing cli­mate impacts that could destroy Alaskans’ way of life are sim­ply not a con­cern for Revlak and extrem­ist Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Mike Dun­leavy, who called Judge Glea­son’s deci­sion “hor­ri­ble.” For them, any­thing that gets in the way of more oil drilling is bad.

Dun­leavy’s admin­is­tra­tion had inter­vened in the law­suit along with the state’s North Slope Bor­ough in the hopes of help­ing Cono­coPhillips prevail.

But their involve­ment did not result in a favor­able out­come for the oil giant.

Glea­son con­clud­ed that the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment made sev­er­al fatal errors when it gave Cono­coPhillips its seal of approval to go ahead with Willow:

  • BLM’s exclu­sion of for­eign green­house gas emis­sions in its alter­na­tives analy­sis in the EIS was arbi­trary and capricious
  • BLM act­ed con­trary to law inso­far as it devel­oped its alter­na­tives analy­sis based on the view that Cono­coPhillips had the right to extract all pos­si­ble oil and gas from its leases
  • BLM act­ed con­trary to law in its alter­na­tive analy­sis for the Teshekpuk Lake Spe­cial Area inso­far as it failed to con­sid­er the statu­to­ry direc­tive that it give “max­i­mum pro­tec­tion” to sur­face val­ues in that area

Cono­coPhillips’ reac­tion was quite mut­ed com­pared to Dun­leavy’s, with the com­pa­ny mere­ly say­ing that it would review the deci­sion and weigh its options.

The Nation­al Petro­le­um Reserve in Alas­ka con­sists of around twen­ty-three mil­lion acres of Arc­tic ter­rain. It is locat­ed adja­cent to the Arc­tic Refuge, which Dun­leavy and oth­er oil fanat­ics also want to drill in, but which Big Oil has lost inter­est in exploit­ing, in part because the optics of drilling in the Refuge are ter­ri­ble and in part because Wall Street banks have drawn a line in the tun­dra (so to speak) and have said they won’t finance any oil drilling projects there.

The Biden admin­is­tra­tion served notice a few weeks ago that it was paus­ing the oil and gas drilling leas­es that the Trump regime hasti­ly approved in its final days. The leas­es remain sus­pend­ed pend­ing fur­ther envi­ron­men­tal review. (The Alas­ka Indus­tri­al Devel­op­ment and Indus­tri­al Author­i­ty, a state agency, was the sole bid­der on most of the tracts. It takes its march­ing orders from Dunleavy.)

The Alas­ka Wilder­ness League has urged the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion to can­cel the leas­es out­right, a move that NPI strong­ly sup­ports. How­ev­er, the autho­riza­tion the Trump regime relied upon needs to be repealed by Con­gress before the Arc­tic Refuge will be rea­son­ably pro­tect­ed from drilling schemes.

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