ConocoPhillips, Biden administration miss deadline to appeal decision striking down Willow Project

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 4:32 PM AKDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2021 at 12:13 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - President Joe Biden’s administration and ConocoPhillips have missed a deadline to appeal a federal court ruling that struck down permits for a proposed oil and gas project on the North Slope.

Environmental and Indigenous groups heralded the news which they say acts as another roadblock for the multi-billion dollar Willow Project. At its peak, it was expected to produce 160,000 barrels per day and create hundreds of jobs.

“The Biden administration’s decision not to appeal comes as good news,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director for Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, through a prepared statement.

She expected that ConocoPhillips, the operator of the project, would continue trying to develop the area that sits 36 miles by road from the village of Nuiqsut.

Rebecca Boys, a spokesperson for ConocoPhillips Alaska, said the oil giant is not appealing the court’s decision “because we believe the best path forward is to engage directly with the relevant agencies to address the matters described in the decision.

“We, and many important stakeholders, remain committed to Willow as the next significant North Slope project,” she continued to say through a prepared statement. “The merits of the project represent a strong example of environmentally responsible, low cost of supply development that offers extensive benefit to the public and to the residents of the North Slope, including significant employment of Alaskan skilled labor from union and non-union trade associations and revenue for federal, state, borough, and local governments.”

The matter has now been remanded to the Bureau of Land Management of Alaska, said Melissa Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Interior Department. She said by email that no one from the agency was available for an interview on Wednesday.

“In light of the court’s decision, we are reviewing to determine next steps,” she added.

When asked why the Biden administration did not appeal the district court’s decision, Schwartz said: “We have nothing more for you.”

Trustees for Alaska brought the lawsuit forward, challenging the project. Attorney Bridget Psarianos believes ConocoPhillips and federal agencies are likely working together on a new permitting process.

“I would imagine that they’ve already got that ball rolling and that’s why we didn’t see an appeal,” she said.

In May, the Biden administration filed a brief in federal court in support of the project. Alaska’s congressional delegation applauded that support, but it angered conservation groups.

Judge Sharon Gleason struck the permits down in August that had been approved under former President Donald Trump.

Gleason said the approval process had been fatally flawed. It had excluded some greenhouse gas emissions from its calculations and underestimated potential impacts to endangered species, including polar bears. The BLM had also not adequately considered reasonable alternatives to the development plan it approved, Gleason said.

The judge may have vacated these permits and this approval process, but the question is what happens next for the Willow Project.

“Our hope is that the Interior Department and the BLM will demand a lot more from ConocoPhillips in terms of information about the project, ways it can be built, alternatives to make it less environmentally damaging,” Psarianos said.

She emphasized that her clients do not believe there is a way the Willow Project could be developed that would not harm the environment or endangered species.

This story has been updated with a response from ConocoPhillips Alaska.

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