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Challenging the Willow Oil & Gas Project in Alaska’s Western Arctic

An arctic fox in the Western Arctic.

The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in the Western Arctic supports unique wildlife habitat and is considered to be an area of global ecological significance.

Kiliii Yuyan for Earthjustice

What’s at Stake

The Willow Project would permanently scar the largest undeveloped area in the United States and jeopardize the health and traditional practices of nearby Indigenous communities.

Over 30 years, the project would produce an estimated 590 million barrels of oil — enough to generate approximately 260 million tons of CO2 equivalent once consumed.

Overview

Conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging a massive oil and gas project known as the Willow Master Development Plan in Alaska’s Western Arctic.

ConocoPhillips’ plan involves using giant chillers to refreeze thawing permafrost — a consequence of climate change — to ensure a solid drilling surface. The oil company plans to construct five drill sites in the northeastern corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, public lands that provide essential wildlife habitat for polar bears, migratory birds, caribou, and other iconic species. The project would be several times larger than nearby oil-drilling operations.

The lawsuit notes the Bureau of Land Management’s failure to scrutinize the climate change impacts of ConocoPhillips’ decades-long oil and gas drilling plan.

In approving the project, the agency ignored the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and offered unsupported and inaccurate greenhouse gas emissions estimates. Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the United States over the past 60 years, presenting many disruptions to Arctic ecosystems and exacerbating sea-level rise, sea-ice melt, and permafrost thaw.

The lawsuit was filed in Alaska’s federal District Court.

Case Updates

August 18, 2021 | In the News: The New York Times

Court Blocks a Vast Alaskan Drilling Project, Citing Climate Dangers

Jeremy Lieb, Attorney, Alaska Office: “This is a resounding win for our clients and the climate. The court’s decision vacates the Trump administration’s decision approving the Willow project, and we hope the Biden administration takes this opportunity to reconsider the project in light of its commitment to address the climate emergency.”

August 18, 2021 | Legal Document

Willow Project Decision

Before the Court are two motions for summary judgment in related cases filed by Center for Biological Diversity Plaintiffs (“CBD Plaintiffs”) and Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic Plaintiffs (“SILA Plaintiffs”).