ConocoPhillips requests decision by July 1 in Willow court case
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On Feb. 22 ConocoPhillips requested the federal District Court in Alaska to issue an expedited decision by July 1 in a court case in which Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic and several environmental organizations have challenged the validity of the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the development of the Willow oil field in the northeastern National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The company has asked the court to follow a briefing schedule that it and BLM have proposed in a parallel case in District Court, in which some other environmental organizations have also challenged the Willow development.
ConocoPhillips, in its request, argues that synchronizing the court case schedules would enable efficient, consolidated briefings in the two cases and that the proposed schedule “would also allow the case to be promptly resolved without causing another season of delay in the planning and construction of the Willow project.”
The company had to cancel its gravel mining and road construction planned for this winter because of a court injunction associated with the cases. Although the District Court originally rejected an injunction request against this winter’s gravel work, the court subsequently issued a temporary injunction when the appellees appealed their injunction request to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The 9th Circuit Court subsequently extended the temporary injunction until the appeal is resolved, thus nixing any realistic possibility of gravel work this year.
If the District Court finds a legal error in BLM’s approval decision, it will take time to correct the error, ConocoPhillips said in its court filing. And so, an adverse decision by the court “any time after mid-summer will … almost certainly result in another lost construction season in the winter 2021-22,” the company said. Off-road construction activities have to take place during the winter, to prevent damage to the tundra.
The Willow project, with first oil anticipated in 2026 and likely ensuing production in excess of 100,000 barrels per day, offers major employment opportunities and billions of dollars in North Slope Borough, state and federal revenues. While many North Slope residents support responsible oil development in the region, there are also significant concerns about the impacts of development on traditional activities, especially subsistence hunting. Environmental organizations are adamantly opposed to Arctic Alaska oil development.
- ALAN BAILEY