Federal judge rejects legal challenge to ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project

Willow project
This 2019 photo provided by ConocoPhillips shows an exploratory drilling camp at the site of the Willow project on Alaska’s North Slope. (Courtesy ConocoPhillips)

The massive Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope can move forward, a federal judge in Anchorage ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled against environmental groups, who argued that the government’s decision to greenlight the ConocoPhillips project in the Arctic was flawed.

Gleason found the government’s analysis was consistent with environmental laws and with goals Congress established for the large federal area in the western Arctic, called the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

“ConocoPhillips, as the lessee, has the right and the responsibility to fully develop its oil and gas leases in the NPR-A subject to reasonable restrictions and mitigation measures imposed by the federal government,” she wrote.

ConocoPhillips has called Gleason’s pending decision “make-or-break” for the major oil prospect. The project’s federal approvals have been challenged by several environmental groups. In April, Gleason gave ConocoPhillips a green light to begin constructing roads to support the project.

The initial federal approval of the project under President Joe Biden generated a political backlash, ranging from pushback among Alaska Native groups to protests in Washington, D.C. and opposition from the United Nations and outdoor-gear maker Patagonia.

Biden has tried to temper that anger by making other parts of the NPR-A off-limits to drilling and canceling oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in Alaska’s eastern Arctic. 

The project has been greeted with more favor in the realm of Alaska politics, with state budget projections improving as they take Willow into account and an unanimous Alaska House vote in support.

Conoco says the project would produce 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years, $7.6 billion in revenue for the U.S. Treasury and 2,500 construction jobs.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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