Alaska Judge Upholds Approval of Willow Oil Drilling Project

Caden Pearson
By Caden Pearson
November 9, 2023US News
Alaska Judge Upholds Approval of Willow Oil Drilling Project
An exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project on Alaska's North Slope in 2019. (ConocoPhillips via AP)

A federal judge on Thursday upheld the approval of the Willow oil drilling project on Alaska’s remote North Slope.

The project is expected to yield over 100,000 barrels of oil per day and create thousands of jobs.

Thursday’s ruling was welcomed by some Iñupiat groups and opposed by other native groups aligned with environmentalists.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, dismissed claims against the project, ruling that the Biden administration had taken sufficient measures to assess its impacts in areas contested by the plaintiffs.

Attitudes toward the Willow Project among Iñupiat groups varied, with some aligning with environmentalists in opposing the project, while others viewed restrictions on oil and gas drilling as potentially detrimental to their economic interests.

Nagruk Harcharek, president of the group Voice of Arctic Iñupiat, whose members include leaders from across much of the North Slope region, said Thursday’s ruling “gives us hope for our collective.”

“Going forward, we hope that key decision makers in the Biden administration and in Congress listen to the voices of those who know these lands better than anyone else: the North Slope Iñupiat,” he said.

Some Nuiqsut leaders have expressed concerns about the impacts of the Willow project on their subsistence lifestyles, and say their concerns were ignored.

Environmentalist groups have accused President Joe Biden of departing from his climate-related campaign promises to halt new oil drilling on federal lands.

Under the approved Willow Project, ConocoPhillips is authorized to extract 576 million barrels of oil over 30 years in Alaska’s federally designated National Petroleum Reserve.

Judge Gleason wrote that the company’s rights are “subject to reasonable restrictions and mitigation measures imposed by the federal government.”

The Willow Project, initially approved in March as a scaled-back version of an $8 billion oil field development, has widespread political support in Alaska.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation, and labor unions have touted Willow as a job creator in a state where major existing oil fields are aging and production is a small fraction of what it once was.

ConocoPhillips Alaska’s initial proposal included five drilling sites, but the Bureau of Land Management approved three, allowing for a total of up to 199 wells. At its peak, the project could yield up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day.

The administration has defended its climate record, with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland saying earlier this year that the Willow project was “a very long and complicated and difficult decision to make.”

She noted that ConocoPhillips Alaska has long-held leases in the region and that regulators tried to balance drilling rights with a project that was narrower in scope.

In September, the Biden administration cited the cancellation of seven leases for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Department of the Interior also proposed a rule to expand limits on oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, including a ban on new leasing on over 10.6 million acres.

During a subcommittee hearing in September, Nagruk Harcharek, president of the nonprofit Voice of the Arctic Inupiat, opposed the cancellation of leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Mr. Harcharek highlighted the significant revenue generated from fossil fuel projects, funding critical services and development in Inupiat communities on the North Slope.

“Ninety-five percent of the revenue that’s generated with the North Slope Borough is funded through the taxation of oil and gas infrastructure, and those dollars are reinvested into the eight communities that we have to provide modern services,” he said.

Taxing oil and gas projects provides employment opportunities and services such as modern water and sewerage systems for all eight Iñupiat communities on the North Slope, Mr. Harcharek told the committee.

He also explained how the life expectancy of Inupiat people rose from 34 to 77 between 1969 and 1980, which he attributed to “resource development projects.”

Other services on the North Slope funded by taxes on fossil fuel projects include “search and rescue, wildlife research, planning and community development, education, and road construction and maintenance.”

In March, the Biden administration approved a scaled-back version of the $8 billion Willow oil field development project, angering climate activists while delighting lawmakers from Alaska who have been battling to secure the project.

ConocoPhillips has held the leases since the late 1990s, which are at risk of expiring by Sept. 1, 2029.

The Associated Press and Nathan Worcester contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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