Alaska North Slope villagers opposed to a ConocoPhillips oil development known as CD-5 are seeking a court order to halt construction on the project.
The villagers have filed in Anchorage federal court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
They are seeking to stop construction on CD-5, a planned oil field that will function as a satellite to the major Alpine oil field six miles to the east. The satellite is poised to become the first oil production project within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Seven residents of Nuiqsut, a predominantly Inupiat Eskimo village about 8.5 miles southeast of the CD-5 site, in February 2013 sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which granted ConocoPhillips a wetlands fill permit for the project. The Center for Biological Diversity also sued the Corps.
In court papers filed Feb. 5, lawyers for the village group said they learned on Jan. 28 that ConocoPhillips had commenced construction.
They want the work halted until the case is resolved, saying the project could cause irreparable harm to the environment and subsistence fishing and hunting opportunity for the plaintiffs.
Construction under wayU.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason appears ready to consider the matter fairly quickly. She has ordered the two sides to file their opposing arguments by Feb. 28.
CD-5 takes its name from the Colville River Delta, where the Alpine oil field and associated satellites are located. The Colville River empties into the Arctic Ocean.
The project involves construction of a drilling pad, a gravel access road and four bridges, including a 1,405-foot span across the Nigliq Channel of the Colville. Fifteen initial wells are planned, including seven producers and eight injectors.
Project cost, including drilling, is about $1 billion.
Lawyers for the villagers said counsel for ConocoPhillips had confirmed that construction activities had begun. The work includes building ice roads and pads, mobilizing and staging materials, and installing bridge piers, court papers said.
“Nuiqsut plaintiffs have suffered and will continue to suffer additional irreparable harm if the court does not issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preserving the status quo and preventing further destruction of wetlands and irreparable impacts to the Nigliq Channel and lakes where Conoco is already driving piles for the bridges,” lawyers for the villagers wrote.
The lawyers added: “Even if an injunction would cause Conoco some financial hardship, economic harm is not irreparable and, as a matter of law, does not override the threat of likely irreparable environmental harm.”
Essence of court caseConocoPhillips is aiming for first oil from CD-5 in December 2015, with production expected to peak at about 16,000 barrels of oil per day. Oil from CD-5 would move by pipeline to the Alpine processing facility.
Company spokeswoman Natalie Lowman confirmed, in a Feb. 12 email to Petroleum News, that construction had indeed begun.
ConocoPhillips had a tough time getting a permit for CD-5.
The Corps initially denied the permit, saying the satellite could be a roadless development with a pipeline punched beneath the river channel, rather than suspended over it.
ConocoPhillips appealed, and ultimately the Corps issued the permit, allowing the road and Nigliq bridge and dropping the idea of an underground pipeline.
The Nuiqsut villagers are putting forth two main arguments.
First, they say the Corps failed to conduct a proper, up-to-date study of the environmental impacts of the project.
Second, they argue the Corps failed to provide “an adequate explanation for the 180-degree change in the agency’s determination of which project design would be the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative,” as required by the Clean Water Act.
The Army Corps has defended its decision to grant the permit, based on all the information considered.
Lawyers for ConocoPhillips have argued in court that the project involves one “unremarkable” drill site of typical design for Alaska’s North Slope. They say CD-5 is being used “as a proxy for a broader conflict about resource development” westward on the North Slope.