Environmental groups sue Trump administration to halt Arctic drilling project

A 3-D rendering of Hilcorp’s proposed Liberty project as represented in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s draft environmental impact statement. (Image courtesy BOEM)

A coalition of environmental groups are suing the Trump administration to challenge what would be the first oil production facility in Arctic federal waters.

The Texas-based oil company Hilcorp aims to build and drill from an artificial gravel island in the Beaufort Sea, east of Prudhoe Bay. The Interior Department issued a key approval for the Liberty Project in October.

Environmental groups are claiming the federal government’s analysis leading to its approval was faulty.

Rebecca Noblin, a staff attorney with Earthjustice, cited a wide range of concerns, including the risk of oil spills, potential impacts to polar bears and climate change.

“We’re concerned about the Liberty infrastructure not being prepared for this new world we’re entering with climate change in the Arctic,” Noblin said.

During the environmental review process, records show Hilcorp did adjust its construction plans to deal with shorter sea-ice seasons. But Noblin claims there are other outstanding issues, like how reduced sea ice could impact the pipeline.

Noblin said the groups are also claiming the federal government didn’t properly account for how oil produced by the Liberty Project worsens climate change.

The Liberty Project would be similar to other oil developments already built in state waters. So far, it hasn’t attracted as much resistance from environmental groups as earlier offshore oil drilling proposals in the Arctic.

But Noblin said the groups she represents took the earliest opportunity to challenge the Liberty Project in court.

“This is the first time a proposal has actually been approved, so this is the first chance to really get in there and litigate on it,” Noblin said.

John Callahan, a spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the agency hasn’t yet received the lawsuit and can’t comment on pending litigation.

Hilcorp has not responded to a request for comment.

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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