Federal Judge Denies Bid to Halt ConocoPhillips’ Willow Oil Project in Alaska

A federal judge in Alaska has denied a bid by environmentalists and an indigenous group to block ConocoPhillips from opening a gravel mine and conducting other work at its $8 billion Willow oil project in the state.[0] The ruling was a critical win for Alaska's prosperity and future, according to Sen. Dan Sullivan. The court acknowledged the years that the Willow Project has already spent under extensive litigation and environmental review, the approval of multiple levels of government, and the strong support for the project from the majority of affected Alaska Native groups.[1]

The Willow oil drilling project has been the subject of lawsuits and protests for years, with environmental groups and indigenous communities opposing it on the grounds that it would irreparably harm wildlife and Alaska Natives who live near the site.[2] However, proponents of the project argue that it will reinvigorate the Alaska economy with jobs, billions in state and local taxes, and grants to North Slope communities.[3]

ConocoPhillips has invested $758 million in the project so far and says it needs to spend an additional $1.5 billion in 2023 and 2024 to keep to that schedule.[2] The company had planned to start construction in the winter of 2023, but project foes had asked for a ruling to halt construction while they challenge the Biden administration's approval of the project.[2]

On Monday, federal Judge Sharon Gleason of the US District Court of Alaska ruled in favor of the federal government and ConocoPhillips in allowing the construction of the project to continue as the court process plays out, noting that the activities planned for the coming months – the construction of the site and infrastructure around it – “do not include the extraction of any oil and gas.”[4]

Alaska's elected officials have expressed their unanimous support for the Willow Project, with the Alaska House and Senate unanimously adopting a resolution on February 20, 2023, stating that “a further delay in approval or construction of the Willow project… is not in the public interest.”[1] Alaska's Congressional delegation also expressed its unanimous support for the project and specifically their support for the construction activities proposed for this winter.[3]

While opponents of the project are expected to challenge the ruling in court, supporters are celebrating the decision as a crucial step towards realizing the benefits of the Willow Project for Alaska and the nation. As Rep. Peltola said, “It's finally time for Alaskans to get to work, and I look forward to seeing construction begin as we await the final resolution of this case.[1]

0. “Federal judge says construction can begin for Willow oil project on Alaska's North Slope” Alaska Beacon, 4 Apr. 2023, https://alaskabeacon.com/2023/04/03/federal-judge-says-construction-can-begin-for-willow-oil-project-on-alaskas-north-slope

1. “Alaska Delegation Welcomes Ruling Upholding Willow Record of Decision” Senator Dan Sullivan, 4 Apr. 2023, https://www.sullivan.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/alaska-delegation-welcomes-ruling-upholding-willow-record-of-decision

2. “ConocoPhillips Wins Ruling to Continue $8 Billion Alaska Oil Project Work” Yahoo Finance, 3 Apr. 2023, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/conocophillips-wins-ruling-continue-8-221643672.html

3. “Breaking: Willow lawsuit tossed, construction can begin” Must Read Alaska, 4 Apr. 2023, https://mustreadalaska.com/breaking-willow-lawsuit-tossed-construction-can-begin/

4. “Federal judge rules Willow Project construction can move forward as environmental groups' lawsuits proceed” WICZ, 3 Apr. 2023, https://www.wicz.com/story/48666619/federal-judge-rules-willow-project-construction-can-move-forward-as-environmental-groups-lawsuits-proceed