Ninth Circuit denies groups’ request to halt drilling project in National Petroleum Reserve
(CN) — The Ninth Circuit on Wednesday denied environmental groups' emergency motions seeking to block work on ConocoPhillips Willow project, an oil drilling venture in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
The now consolidated appeals from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic stem from an order handed down by U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Gleason, which previously rejected the groups’ attempts to block the project.
Gleason’s April 3 order cited inconsistencies within the groups’ declarations intended to describe considerations of the broader public's interests and prove irreparable harm that would merit a preliminary injunction. The construction activities, including the opening of a gravel mine on the Tiŋmiaqsiuġvik River, the construction of up to 3.1 miles of gravel road and the building of a subsistence boat ramp on the Tiŋmiaqsiuġvik.
The order did not, however, dismiss the groups’ separate lawsuits filed against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Department of the Interior following the Biden administration’s approval of the project on March 13.
The plaintiffs allege ConocoPhillips’ construction will harm wildlife, recreational users and subsistence hunters that rely on preserving the massive federal reserve. The Center further claims that Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider alternatives that would eliminate impacts on wildlife or reduce the project’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts.
The Center argued in its emergency motion that ensuring the federal agency's compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act before Willow continues is in the public interest and injunctive relief is therefore warranted.
“In its decision holding otherwise, the district court made several consequential legal and factual errors,” the Center wrote.
The brief order from Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Paez and U.S. Circuit Judges Paul J. Watford and Danielle J. Forrest — appointed by Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, respectively — denied the organizations’ emergency motions for injunctive relief, allowing ConocoPhillips to continue construction pending ongoing litigation.
In a statement on Wednesday, Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Inupiat, described the ruling as hard news that demonstrates how the oil and gas industry exerts power over those “whose health and food are most impacted and who will most experience the climate harm and disaster this project will fuel.”
“Corporate and political interests continue to sacrifice places like Teshekpuk Lake and communities like Nuiqsut for their profits,” Maupin added. “We will continue to fight this project and protect Teshekpuk Lake and do so every step of the way.”
Bridget Psarianos, lead staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska who represent Sovereign Inupiat and five other plaintiffs in its case, issued a statement claiming the courts denied the motions without considering the merits of the case or acknowledging the known, ongoing harm to land and people. According to the attorney, the Bureau of Land Management issued permits as soon as the Biden administration approved Willow and ConocoPhillips began ice road construction the same day.
“It is difficult not to see how a system that prioritizes oil and gas exploitation over the health of people and the planet disregards the voices of those without institutional power and wealth,” Psarianos added. “This devastating ruling only deepens our commitment to holding agencies and industry accountable to the impacts of their decisions on communities, climate, and the health of the planet.”