Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace USA challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of Peregrine, an exploratory drilling program entering its third year in the Western Arctic in Alaska. The complaint takes the agency to task for its failure to consider the greenhouse gas consequences of burning the oil the developer hopes to discover and produce. According to EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions calculator, extracting and burning the quantity of oil that could be found at the Peregrine site would be the carbon equivalent of emissions from 173 coal-fired power plants operating for a year.
The plans were submitted by Emerald House, a subsidiary of Australian petroleum firm 88 Energy. After drilling an initial oil well labeled “Merlin-1” in the winter of 2020/2021, the company told investors it believed the remote and undeveloped public-lands area where it intends to drill, which it has under lease, could contain 1.6 billion barrels of petroleum. If that proves true, extracting and burning that total volume would release 645 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to expert analysis. By comparison, ConocoPhillips’ Willow project — which has attracted significant opposition from climate advocates — would release an estimated 275 million metric tons of CO2.
The lawsuit alleges that the Biden administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to analyze the greenhouse gas emissions consequences of allowing this project to move forward when issuing a permit, particularly given the existing climate impacts arising from fossil fuel projects already underway on federal lands.
“We are beyond frustrated with Biden’s rubber stamping of Big Oil’s drilling in Alaska’s vulnerable and wild places,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “Unfortunately, the administration failed to see how this unlawful decision throws yet another carbon bomb at our rapidly warming planet. We hope the court system helps ensure that the federal government fully upholds our bedrock environmental laws before approving such harmful activities.”
“You can’t fight climate change and expand fossil fuel projects in the Arctic at the same time. Adding more drilling projects in Alaska’s Western Arctic is both reckless and counterproductive,” said Tim Donaghy, research manager for Greenpeace USA. “We must follow the dictates of science and justice. President Biden has a chance to build on his recent climate wins with policies to phase out fossil fuel production, and ensure an energy transition that benefits workers and communities.”
“The Biden administration has made important strides on climate, but continuing to greenlight new oil drilling projects threatens to undermine this progress and push our climate goals out of reach,” said Sierra Club Lands Water Wildlife Campaign Director Dan Ritzman. “The Peregrine program could open the door to even further industrialization of this sensitive area, threatening our climate, as well as critical wildlife habitat. We will continue fighting in court to ensure that it never moves forward.”
“We are in the middle of a climate crisis that is causing massive environmental disruptions and harm to communities around the globe, yet the Trump and Biden administrations have moved this exploration program forward without any meaningful analysis of how its greenhouse gas emissions will contribute to climate change,” said Earthjustice attorney Ian Dooley. “Continuing down this path will thwart any meaningful progress toward addressing climate change, so we’re going to court to force BLM to rethink its decision to allow this fossil fuel proposal to move forward.”
Read the full complaint.