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 The ruling nixes the development permits approved by the Trump regime, which were not withdrawn by the Biden-Harris administration, stopping the drilling scheme from moving forward for at least the time being: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.