In this June 1, 2001 file photo Caribou graze in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason, on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, has thrown out the Trump administration’s approval for a massive oil project on Alaska’s North Slope, saying the federal review was flawed and didn’t include mitigation measures for polar bears. (AP Photo/File)

In this June 1, 2001 file photo Caribou graze in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason, on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, has thrown out the Trump administration’s approval for a massive oil project on Alaska’s North Slope, saying the federal review was flawed and didn’t include mitigation measures for polar bears. (AP Photo/File)

Trump-era oil project approvals tossed

An Anchorage judge vacated permits for ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

By Mark Thiessen and Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — A federal judge on Wednesday threw out Trump administration approvals for a large planned oil project on Alaska’s North Slope, saying the federal review was flawed and didn’t include mitigation measures for polar bears.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason in Anchorage vacated permits for ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in a 110-page ruling.

The Trump administration approved the project in late 2020, and the Biden administration defended the project in court.

Rebecca Boys, a ConocoPhillips’ spokesperson, said the company would review Gleason’s decision “and evaluate the options available regarding this project.”

Spokespersons for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department said their agencies had no comment. The Bureau of Land Management conducted the environmental review of the project that Gleason found flawed.

Conservation groups and Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic, described as a grassroots organization, had challenged the adequacy of the review process.

Karlin Itchoak, Alaska director for The Wilderness Society, in a statement called the ruling “a step toward protecting public lands and the people who would be most negatively impacted by the BLM’s haphazard greenlighting of the Willow project.”

In October 2020, then-U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed the government’s record of decision that called for allowing ConocoPhillips to establish up to three drill sites, associated processing facilities and gravel roads and pipelines on the North Slope.

Two more drill sites and additional roads and pipelines proposed by ConocoPhillips could be considered later, the Interior Department said at the time.

Bernhardt had said the decision would make a “significant contribution to keeping oil flowing” through the trans-Alaska pipeline system “decades into the future” and provide revenues. The Bureau of Land Management said the project could produce up to 160,000 barrels of oil a day with about 590 million barrels over 30 years.

More than 1,000 jobs were expected during peak construction and more than 400 jobs during operations, the agency’s then-state director said.

Gleason said the land management agency’s exclusion of foreign greenhouse gas emissions in its environment review was “arbitrary and capricious.”

She also ruled the agency acted contrary to law to the extent it developed its “alternatives analysis based on the view that ConocoPhillips has the right to extract all possible oil and gas on its leases.”

Gleason voided a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for lacking specifics around mitigation measures for polar bears. The agency had concluded that the project “was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of polar bears and not likely to result in the adverse modification of polar bear critical habitat,” according to the ruling.

The Bureau of Land Management’s reliance on that report was also flawed, Gleason said in sending the case back to the appropriate agencies for further action.

Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director for the Defenders of Wildlife, called the decision “a win for our climate, for imperiled species like polar bears, and for the local residents whose concerns have been ignored.” She urged the Biden administration to examine alternatives to the project.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in a statement, said the ruling “from a federal judge trying to shelve a major oil project on American soil does one thing: outsources production to dictatorships & terrorist organizations.”

He called the decision “horrible.”

More in News

Vehicles are unleaded at the Seward Harbor after being moved from Lowell Point on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Seward, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management)
Lowell Point barge services move 110-plus cars to Seward

The services were covered by the Kenai Peninsula Borough and ended Monday

Anglers fish on the Kenai River on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Watershed Forum receives matching grant from Conoco

The Kenai Watershed Forum was given a grant from ConocoPhillips to fund… Continue reading

A beach on the eastern side of Cook Inlet is photographed at Clam Gulch, Alaska, in June 2019. The Alaska Board of Fisheries is implementing new shellfish regulations in Cook Inlet. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Fish and Game closes East Cook Inlet razor clam fisheries

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed the Cook Inlet… Continue reading

Anastasia Scollon (left) and Willow King (right) stand in The Goods + Sustainable Grocery and Where it’s At mindful food and drink on Monday, May 16, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sustainable shopping finds new home in Soldotna

The Collective used to operate out of Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio

The Alaska State Capitol is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Legislature modernizes 40-year-old definition of consent in sexual assault cases

‘Alaska took a gargantuan step forward in updating our laws,’ says deputy attorney general

Project stakeholders cut a ribbon at the Nikiski Shelter of Hope on Friday, May 20, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Stakeholders celebrate opening of Nikiski shelter

The shelter officially opened last December

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks with reporters Thursday about the state’s budget at the Alaska State Capitol. Dunleavy said lawmakers had sent a complete budget, and that there was no need for a special session.
Dunleavy: No need for special session

Governor calls budget “complete”

A magnet promoting the Alaska Reads Act released sits atop a stack of Alaskan-authored and Alaska-centric books. Lawmakers passed the Alaska Reads Act on the last day of the legislative session, but several members of the House of Representatives were upset with the bill, and the way it was passed. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
In last-minute move, Legislature passes early reading overhaul

Rural lawmakers push back on Alaska Reads Act

Graduates wait to receive diplomas during Connections Homeschool’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Connections honors more than 100 graduates

The home-school program held a ceremony Thursday in Soldotna

Most Read