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Court Slaps Down Climate-Bomb Arctic Drilling Project

No, ConocoPhillips, you may not unleash a global climate bomb by drilling in the Western Arctic tundra. That’s the message the oil giant has received from a federal district court judge in Alaska. With the August 18 ruling in favor of Earthjustice and our clients, the company has met a major roadblock to its Willow Project, a plan to explore for oil and gas across 1.2 million acres of the Western Arctic. Now the pressure is mounting for the Biden administration to end its support of this destructive project.

The Willow Project poses threats to the Western Arctic—and far beyond.

  • The project called for refreezing the Arctic permafrost, which is melting due to climate change, in order to stabilize the ground for fossil fuel drilling.
  • ConocoPhillips would have built 37 miles of new gravel roads, seven bridges, an airstrip, and a gravel mine on public lands.
  • The project’s construction and daily operation would have devastated local wildlife, like polar bears, migratory birds, and caribou. It also would have jeopardized the health and traditional practices of nearby Alaska Natives.
  • Over its lifetime, Willow would have accelerated the climate crisis by releasing enough greenhouse gas emissions to equal that of 66 coal-fired power plants.

This victory underscores that the law is a powerful tool for stopping climate-wrecking projects.

  • The court sided with Earthjustice that the agency relied on unsupported greenhouse gas emissions estimates and ignored the project’s global climate impacts.
  • It also found that the government glossed over the project’s full harm to endangered polar bears, in violation of the Endangered Species Act, one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws.
  • Across the country, Earthjustice is using the power of the law to stop the extraction and burning of harmful fossil fuels.

The Biden administration can’t uphold its stated climate goals and keep defending the Willow Project.

  • Despite a major legal setback this spring when a court halted the project and sharply critiqued the government’s analysis, Biden’s Department of Justice bafflingly continued the Trump administration’s defense of this climate threat.
  • Though the Biden administration has promised historic progress on fighting climate change, its support of Trump-era fossil fuel projects like Willow severely undermines U.S. climate goals.

What happens next?

  • The Interior Department must now go back and conduct a thorough environmental assessment before making a new decision.
Caribou and migratory birds in the Western Arctic around the Teshekpuk Lake area.

Caribou and migratory birds in the Western Arctic around the Teshekpuk Lake area.

KILIII YÜYAN FOR EARTHJUSTICE