June 30, 2022

WASHINGTON – A federal judge in Alaska on Wednesday blocked planning permission for a major oil drilling project on the state’s North Slope that is expected to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day for the next 30 years.

The multi-billion dollar plan by oil giant ConocoPhillips, known as Willow, had been approved by the Trump administration and legally backed by the Biden administration. Environmental groups complained, arguing that the federal government failed to take into account the effects of the drilling on wildlife and the burning of the oil on global warming.

A federal judge has agreed.

In their opinion, Judge Sharon L. Gleason of the US District Court for Alaska wrote that the Home Office’s Bureau of Land Management’s greenhouse gas emissions exclusion in its environmental impact analysis of the project when the Trump administration approved the project was “arbitrary and capricious . “

The Willow Project has become a political and environmental lightning rod not only because of its enormous size and potential environmental damage, but also because President Biden’s administration has pledged to remove fossil fuels from the country in an ambitious effort to combat the climate Diverting Fuels Change – had decided to give them legal support.

In May, the Biden administration drew the ire of environmentalists when it filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Alaska defending the Trump administration’s decision to go ahead with the Willow Project. The Home Office announced at the time that the Trump administration’s decision complied with environmental regulations in force at the time.

Environmental groups saw Wednesday’s decision as confirmation of their harsh criticism of the Biden government’s decision not to reject the drilling plan.

“This is an overwhelming win for our clients and the climate,” wrote Jeremy Lieb, an Earthjustice attorney who represented several plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Trump administration’s approval of the project, in an email. “The court’s decision overturns the Trump administration’s decision to approve the Willow project, and we hope the Biden administration will take this opportunity to reconsider the project in light of its commitment to addressing the climate emergency.”

A Home Office spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz declined to comment on the ruling, and a White House spokeswoman did not respond to an email request for comment.

A spokesman for ConocoPhillips did not respond to an email request that the company would appeal the court’s ruling.

Mr Biden’s decision not to fight the Willow Project despite his promised commitment to fighting climate change was widely viewed as a political attempt to win the goodwill of Lisa Murkowski, the moderate Republican senator who is considered a potential ally of the government evenly divided in a Senate.

For the past few months, Ms. Murkowski has played a pivotal role in drafting and delivering Republican support for the $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in the Senate earlier this month and a huge victory for Mr. Biden in implementing it Agenda brought.

Shortly before the government submitted its mandate to defend the Willow Project, Home Secretary Deb Haaland called Ms. Murkowski to inform her personally about the move.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Murkowski did not respond to an email request for comment on the judge’s decision.