Willow Project-1

Carbon Bomb

I Mallikarjuna Sharm*

Recently with the US President Joe Biden again giving green signal to the Willow Project for extraction and refining of Oil in the controversial, native communities-inhabited, wild lands of Alaska in the USA, much furore has again arisen in the environmental agitational front there and the Earthjustice and other pro-people environment protection and promotional organisations and groups are on war path once again to stop the project and save the environment and peaceful living of the natives in those lands. Wikipedia briefly informs:

“The WILLOW PROJECT is an oil drilling project by Conoco Phillips located on the plain of the North Slope of Alaska in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. The project was originally to construct and operate up to five drill pads for a total of 250 oil wells. Associated infrastructure includes access and infield roads, airstrips, pipelines, a gravel mine and a temporary island to facilitate module delivery via sealift barges on permafrost and between waters managed by the state of Alaska.

Oil was discovered in the Willow prospect area west of Alpine, Alaska, in 2016, and in October 2020, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved ConocoPhillips' Willow development project in its Record of Decision. After a court challenge in 2021, the BLM issued its final supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) in February 2023.

Alaskan lawmakers from both sides, as well as the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, have supported the Willow project. On March 13, 2023, the Biden administration approved the project.

Environmentalist organisation Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on March 14, 2023, on behalf of conservation groups to stop the Willow project, saying that the approval of a new carbon pollution source contradicts President Joe Biden's promises to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and transition the United States to clean energy.

The project could produce up to 600 million barrels of oil and 287 million tons of carbon emissions plus other greenhouse gases over 30 years, and could adversely impact Arctic wildlife and Native American communities. The Willow project would damage the complex local tundra ecosystem and, according to an older government estimate, release the same amount of greenhouse gases annually as half a million homes.”

Firstly, it is essential to know that Alaska itself was originally a territory of the Russian Empire which was sold away to the USA way back in ...almost for a farthing–to put it so.

Here it may also be mentioned that in the background of enormous American sanctions against Russia, and especially with the present Ukraine War raging between Russia and Ukraine, and the US-NATO-EU alliance solidly supporting and enormously aiding Ukraine with all sorts of dangerous weapons and funds, the hostility and animosity in relations between Russia and America has also grown manifold and recently some grumbling and also stray demands were heard from Russian sources about this old sale-for-a-song transaction of Alaska and suggestions were made that Russia again press for restoration of Alaska to its sovereignty.

“Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organisation. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.” The organisation claims to have intervened on many occasions to save the Earth by opposing environmental degradation and damage projects and efforts and succeeded in those interventions to a considerable extent.

As regards its intervention against this Willow Project by launching a lawsuit to bar it the Organisation informs in its introduction to an interim relief seeking petition in–

BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT; UNITED STATES FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE; UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR; DAVID BERNHARDT, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Interior; and CHAD B. PADGETT, in his official capacity as Alaska State Director of Bureau of Land Management, {Defendants.}–
(5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706; 42 U.S.C. § 4332; 16 U.S.C. § 1536)–

1.   This action arises from the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of Conoco- Phillips Alaska Incorporated’s (ConocoPhillips) Willow Master Development Plan (“Willow Project” or “Project”), a massive oil and gas development project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (the “Reserve”). The final environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared by BLM for the Project does not meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Project also relies on a biological opinion issued by United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“Fish and Wildlife Service” or “Service”) that fails to comply with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

2.   The 23-million-acre Reserve is recognised as a globally important ecological resource. It is home to a diversity of species, including caribou, polar bears, brown bears, muskoxen, and millions of migratory birds, among many other species. This landscape and its values are central to the livelihood and traditional practices of the Iñupiaq people living in the region.

3.   On October 26, 2020, BLM signed a record of decision (ROD) approving ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project. The massive project could include five drill sites, a central processing facility, an operations centre, 37 miles of gravel roads, up to 700 miles of ice roads during construction, 263 miles of resupply ice roads during operations, one or two airstrips, up to 386 miles of pipelines, and a gravel mine site in the Reserve. BLM estimates the Project will produce 586 million barrels of oil, resulting in approximately 259 million metric tons CO2 emissions over its 30-year life.

4.   The Willow Project will have far-reaching impacts across the Reserve, the North Slope, and beyond. The Project represents a significant expansion into previously undeveloped areas of the Reserve, including large areas within the ecologically important Judy Creek and Fish Creek watersheds, and areas within the Teshekpuk Lake and Colville River Special Areas. The Project will disturb wildlife, destroy wetlands, and permanently alter rural lifestyles and traditional cultural practices dependent on food resources like fish and caribou. The Project will further imperil polar bears that are already threatened from climate change and the expansion of oil and gas development in the Arctic. And the Project’s enormous greenhouse gas emissions are inconsistent with the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels. Developing a massive new Arctic oil formation is a threat to the global climate and an already dramatically warming Arctic region.

5.   Defendants’ approval of the Willow Project is unlawful. BLM’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) violates NEPA by failing to consider reasonable alternatives that could reduce adverse impacts, including any alternatives that are meaningfully different from ConocoPhillips’ proposed project, failing to accurately describe and analyze the significance of greenhouse gas emissions from the Willow Project, and failing to adequately discuss the magnitude and nature of potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts to caribou. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s polar bear biological opinion violates the ESA by relying on uncertain, future compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The Service also failed to issue an incidental take statement as required by the ESA. Several of the agencies’ failures here—the failure to account for foreign consumption in assessing climate change impacts caused by the Project and the reliance on uncertain, future mitigation measures in the polar bear biological opinion, in particular—mirror those the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held unlawful in rejecting the approval of another oil development project in the Arctic. See Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, No. 18-73400, 2020 WL 7135484 (9th Cir. Dec. 7, 2020). The Court should vacate BLM’s Record of Decision (ROD) approving the Willow Project and the Service’s biological opinion.”

And they requested for the following reliefs in the said petition: “PRAYER FOR RELIEF: Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court:

1.   Enter declaratory judgment that Defendants’ decision to approve ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project and Defendant Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion for the Project was arbitrary, capricious, and/or not in accordance with the law;

2.   Vacate Defendants’ Record of Decision approving the Willow Project;

3.   Vacate Defendants’ biological opinion for the Willow Project;

4.   Enter appropriate injunctive relief to ensure that Defendants comply with CBD et al. v. BLM et al., the NEPA and the ESA and to prevent irreparable harm to Plaintiffs and to the environment until such compliance occurs;

5.   Award Plaintiffs the costs of this action, including reasonable attorney’s fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412; and

6.   Grant such other relief as this Court deems just and proper. Respectfully submitted this 21st day of December 2020.”

There have been some temporary restraint orders blocking the Project from proceeding further and it was expected that Joe Biden’s administration would finally settle the matters with a pro-people policy and strict measures against the construction of the Willow Project pipeline which the earlier President Trump administration had permitted with some safeguards, etc. However, the new Biden administration disappointed by granting approval for the Project to proceed with.

  *I Mallikarjuna Sharma, Editor, Law Animated World

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Vol 55, No. 43, April 23 - 29, 2023