Newly Elected Local Authorities Changed Their Decision on Willow Project


The tribal and city councils in Nuiqsut withdrew their support for a joint letter they sent last year blasting the “endless expansion of oil development and the complete encirclement of our village”

Illustration photo: ConocoPhillips’ CD-5 project was built before construction on Willow started, some seven miles from the Iñupiat village of Nuiqsut on Alaska’s North Slope. (ConocoPhillips)

As ConocoPhillips begins a major winter construction season for its planned Willow oil development, the governments of a North Slope village that were among the few local institutions to criticize the project have both changed their positions.

The Indigenous Iñupiat community of Nuiqsut, population 550, is the closest village to Willow, a controversial project that could boost the amount of oil produced in Alaska by more than one-third.

Nuiqsut’s tribal and city councils both approved resolutions in December withdrawing their support for a joint letter, which they released a year ago. The joint letter blasted the “endless expansion of oil development and the complete encirclement of our village.”

Recent municipal elections that resulted in three new members and a new village mayor have had a certain impact on the city council’s decision.

Five of the current six city council members participated in the discussion and unanimously felt it was proper to rescind the letter of opposition to the Willow development, and to work closely with the developer, ConocoPhillips, and the regulatory agencies to follow the conditions and stipulations that are in place to the maximum extent possible for the benefit of the community of Nuiqsut, the city council’s December resolution said.

The tribal council’s resolution, adopted a day later, contains a caveat: the tribal government is not opposed to Willow “so long as subsistence resources are protected.”

The Nuiqsut governments’ evolving positions on the project surfaced this week in documents filed by ConocoPhillips in ongoing litigation over the Biden administration’s approval of Willow.

A decision by the Nuiqsut’s tribal and city councils could play an important role in Willow's case.

In recent legal arguments asking the appeals court to temporarily block construction, conservation groups cited the original 2023 Nuiqsut letter as one of the reasons that such an order would serve the public interest — a key legal test that must be met before judges could issue such an order, known as an injunction.

Source: Article by Nathaniel Herz published in Northern Journal