Lawsuit Challenges Federal Approval of Alaska LNG Project

Energy commission ignored harm to climate, endangered wildlife


Kristen Monsell, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7137,

Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, (914) 261-4626,

Erin Whalen, Earthjustice, (907) 500-7130,

Conservation groups sued the federal government today for approving the Alaska LNG project, which would export U.S. liquefied natural gas to Asia. The lawsuit challenges the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s May 21 approval of the project and refusal to grant a June 23 request for rehearing.

The groups argue the federal energy commission failed to analyze the project’s impacts on Alaska lands and waters, climate change and endangered species, including polar bears, Cook Inlet beluga whales and North Pacific right whales, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Alaska LNG project includes an 807-mile pipeline, a facility to liquefy Arctic gas and the shipping of about 20 million metric tons of the condensed fuel abroad every year. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club today asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to review its approval by the commission. Both groups are represented by Earthjustice.

“Alaska LNG would worsen climate change and the extinction crisis to export American fossil fuel to Asia,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center. “The feds ignored those serious threats as they rubber-stamped this risky project. Alaska’s climate is already changing rapidly, and this massive fossil fuel project would contribute to that dangerous warming.”

The project’s pipeline would have a daily maximum capacity of 3.9 billion cubic feet of gas. Burning that amount of gas could result in more than 90 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually. That’s almost the same global warming impact as building 21 coal-fired power plants.

“FERC cannot just ignore the destructive impact this fracked gas export project would have on vulnerable wildlife and our climate,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Nathan Matthews. “This facility would contribute to the climate crisis at a time when we can least afford it, and it should never have been approved.”

The pipeline would connect drilling operations on the North Slope to an export terminal on Cook Inlet and bring tanker ships through the habitat of endangered North Pacific right whales and Cook Inlet beluga whales. FERC estimates the project would increase large vessel traffic in the Inlet by nearly 75%.

“The project’s estimated damage to Alaska wetlands alone is among the most extensive I’ve seen — over 8,000 acres permanently destroyed, which is in the same ballpark as a full buildout of the Pebble Mine,” said Erin Whalen, an attorney with Earthjustice. “And all that destruction would buy is further commitment to a climate our grandchildren may not survive. The law requires the commission to take a hard look at these impacts.”

Alaska is currently warming at twice the global rate, and the state’s infrastructure is being compromised by thawing permafrost and related subsidence. The project, with a price tag of nearly $40 billion, would also involve the construction and operation of a gas-treatment plant and associated 60-mile pipeline on the North Slope.

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