Appeals court weighs whether to let stand Biden’s approval of Willow oil project in Alaska

Feb 5, 2024, 4:16 PM

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An appeals court panel is deciding whether to let stand the Biden administration’s approval of the massive Willow oil project in a federal petroleum reserve on Alaska’s North Slope.

Environmentalists and a grassroots group called Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic are seeking to have last March’s approval overturned. Arguments before a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel Monday in San Francisco focused largely on the groups’ claims that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management did not consider a “reasonable” range of alternatives in its review and limited its consideration of alternatives to those that allowed for full-field development of the project by ConocoPhillips Alaska.

The court did not immediately rule.

Amy Collier, a U.S. Justice Department attorney, told the court the federal agencies involved complied with their legal obligations. Jason Morgan, an attorney for ConocoPhillips Alaska, said Willow wasn’t presented on a “blank slate” — that prior lease decisions providing a right to develop subject to restrictions and a plan governing where development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska can take place also were part of the equation.

“Context is very important,” Morgan said.

In court documents, he and other attorneys for the company said the leases in ConocoPhillips’ Bear Tooth Unit are in areas open to leasing and surface development and that the Bureau of Land Management committed the unit to development in issuing leases there over a period of years. Willow is in the unit, in the northeast part of the petroleum reserve.

Two separate lawsuits seek to overturn the project’s approval. A coalition of environmentalists in one of the cases argues the Bureau of Land Management predicated its assessment “on the flawed premise that it must allow ConocoPhillips to extract all economically viable oil from its leases and assessed only a narrow range of action alternatives that each allowed nearly identical oil production.”

The groups are challenging U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason’s decision in November upholding Willow’s approval. She found ConocoPhillips Alaska has the right to develop its leases in the reserve “subject to reasonable restrictions and mitigation measures imposed by the federal government.” She found the Bureau of Land Management “did consider the requisite reasonable range of alternatives based on the Project’s purpose and need.”

Work on the project is underway after Gleason and an appeals court rejected efforts by the environmental groups to block winter activities, including construction of new gravel roads, while the appeals are being heard.

State political and union leaders have endorsed Willow, and the project has broad support among Alaska Native leaders on the North Slope and groups with ties to the region who see Willow as economically vital for their communities.

Climate activists see the project at odds with President Joe Biden’s pledges to combat climate change. The administration has defended its climate record.

It is estimated that using the oil from Willow would produce the equivalent of about 263 million tons (239 million metric tons) of greenhouse gases over the project’s 30-year life, roughly equal to the combined emissions from 1.7 million passenger cars over the same time period.

ConocoPhillips Alaska proposed five drilling sites for Willow but the bureau approved three, which it said would include up to 199 total wells. The project could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak. Supporters say that would be significant for the trans-Alaska pipeline, which hit its peak for throughput in 1988 with an average of about 2 million barrels per day.

An average of about 470,000 barrels a day coursed through the pipeline last year.

United States News

Associated Press

Powerful storm in California and Nevada shuts interstate and dumps snow on mountains

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A powerful blizzard raged overnight into Saturday in the Sierra Nevada as the biggest storm of the season shut down a long stretch of Interstate-80 in California and gusty winds and heavy rain hit lower elevations, leaving tens of thousands of customers without power. Up to 10 feet (3 meters) of […]

5 hours ago

Musher Dutch Johnson, a kennel manager at The August Foundation for Alaska Racing Dogs, runs a dog ...

Associated Press

Alaska’s Iditarod dogs get neon visibility harnesses after 5 were fatally hit while training

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Iditarod, the annual sled dog race celebrating Alaska’s official state sport, is set to get underway Saturday with a new focus on safety after five dogs died and eight were injured in collisions with snowmobiles while training on shared, multi-use trails. For the first time, mushers who line up for […]

8 hours ago

FILE - Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference...

Associated Press

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton beat impeachment. Now he wants Super Tuesday revenge on his foes

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton beat impeachment. On Super Tuesday, he wants political revenge. The Republican, who just six months ago was on the brink of removal from office, is charging into Texas’ primaries on a dramatic campaign to oust dozens in his own party. They include rank-and-file legislators, state judges […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

2 races, including crowded chief justice campaign, could push Arkansas court further to the right

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two races for the Arkansas Supreme Court, including a crowded chief justice campaign, could push a court that’s been targeted by outside conservative groups even further to the right. The nonpartisan elections on Tuesday for chief justice and another seat could have major implications on cases before the court or […]

8 hours ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 29, 2024. Short...

Associated Press

Ukrainian troops are rationing ammo. But House Republicans plan to take weeks to consider aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian drones fly without ammunition. Russian artillery unleash deadly volleys from safe positions beyond the range of Kyiv’s troops. Shortages of ammo and supplies are resulting in lost ground to Moscow, U.S. congressional leaders warn, yet the Republican-controlled House has shown little hurry to resupply Ukraine with military aid. Across Washington, officials […]

8 hours ago

FILE - Registered Republican voters stand in line March 6, 2012, for the caucus event in Rathdrum, ...

Associated Press

Republicans in Idaho, Missouri and Michigan will meet to weigh in on the presidential race

More delegates are up for grabs Saturday as former President Donald Trump looks to get closer to clinching the Republican nomination and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley seeks her first win. Trump, who is especially strong in caucuses, is expected to add to his delegate lead in Republican caucuses in Idaho and Missouri, as well […]

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 


Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Appeals court weighs whether to let stand Biden’s approval of Willow oil project in Alaska