Arctic Oil Drilling Project in Alaska


The ConocoPhillips Alaska headquarters, seen here on April 8, 2020, looms over downtown Anchorage. An appeals court order denying environmentals' request for an emergency injuction allows the company to proceed with its ongoing winter construction at its massive Willow project on the North Slope. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

The Willow project lies within a vast, 23 million-acre area known as the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. This was one of four such reserves set aside in the early 1900s to guarantee a supply of oil for the U.S. military. In the 2000s, new geologic understanding and advanced exploration technology led companies to lease portions of the reserve, and they soon made large fossil fuel discoveries. At the same time, the Reserve is an important habitat for wildlife including caribou, polar bears, and millions of migratory birds.

U.S. Courts of Appeal rejected a motion by environmental and Alaska Native groups seeking to block construction of the Willow oil field project. It let ConocoPhillips continue plans on the huge development on Alaska’s North Slope.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a three-page order issued on 18 December, denied the motion for an emergency injunction filed by the groups to overturn the Biden administration’s Willow approval.

The company has 800 employees and contractors already assigned to the project, and this winter’s work includes building an ice road, mining and placement of gravel and pipeline construction, company spokesperson said by email on Tuesday. Activities that do not disturb the surface, such as preparations for the ice road, have already started, as have deliveries of construction materials to a staging area. The surface-disturbing activities like gravel mining and placement are expected to start this month.

Willow is a matter of debate. Alaska political leaders and business representatives are championing it as critical to the state’s economy and the North Slope’s future as a long-term oil producer, while environmentalists are blasting it as a polluting “carbon bomb.” The environmental groups say that if Willow is allowed to proceed, it will have significant effects on global climate due to resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

ConocoPhillips’ Willow project is in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. (Map by USGS, Department of Interior).

In a statement issued on 19 December, Willow opponents said they will press on with their challenges despite the latest setback.

Source: Alaska Beacon