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ConocoPhillips' Alaska Willow project approvals hit with second lawsuit

FILE PHOTO: A polar bear keeping close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

By Clark Mindock

(Reuters) - A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday challenging the Biden administration’s approval of ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil and gas project in Alaska, saying the “enormous” project’s greenhouse gas emissions would undermine federal climate goals.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and others told an Alaska federal court the U.S. Interior Department finalized the Willow approval on Monday without addressing flaws in the plan identified by a federal judge in 2021. They asked the court to vacate the approval, which would block ConocoPhillips from moving forward with the construction.

"Developing a massive new Arctic oil formation is a threat to the global climate and an already dramatically warming Arctic region," the suit said.


An Interior spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday. ConocoPhillips did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A separate lawsuit challenging the approval was filed on Tuesday by the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Sierra Club, Trustees for Alaska and the Alaska Wilderness League.

Approvals for the project in northern Alaska give ConocoPhillips permission to construct three drill pads, 25.8 miles of gravel roads, an air strip and hundreds of miles of ice roads.

ConocoPhillips had originally sought to drill five oil pads and related infrastructure.

The 30-year project would produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak, according to the company. The federal government estimates that it would release over 260 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the second suit filed Tuesday, the latest approval failed to adequately consider the rise in emissions that would result from consumers burning the oil extracted from the site’s wellpads.

The groups also raised concerns about the threat of oil spills and irreparable damage from construction to the ecologically-sensitive region that is home to subsistence indigenous communities and endangered species like polar bears and seals.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. Bureau of Land Management et al., U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska, case No. not immediately available.

For the environmentalists: Erik Grafe, Ian Dooley, Carole Holley and Eric Jorgensen of Earthjustice, Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity and Cecilia Segal and Ann Alexander of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For the government: Council information not immediately available.

(Reporting by Clark Mindock)