The Alaska venture will add 239 million metric tons of carbon emissions to the atmosphere over the next 30 years as the Biden administration U-turns on its climate policy.
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit seeking to halt a controversial oil drilling project in Alaska approved by the US government, which has pledged strong action to fight climate change.
The six groups that filed the suit in US District Court on Tuesday accused the Interior Department and other agencies of violating the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and other laws by authorising the fossil fuel extraction.
“ConocoPhillips’ massive oil and gas project presents a real threat to the wildlife, ecosystems, and communities of Arctic Alaska,” said Mike Scott of the Sierra Club, one of the complainants in the suit.
“If they’re allowed to break ground, the Willow project would be a disaster for the climate, the effects of which would be felt for decades.”
The Interior Department gave the green light on Monday to US energy giant ConocoPhillips to drill for oil at three sites in the federally owned National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska’s pristine western Arctic.
Environmental groups had urged President Joe Biden, who vowed during the 2020 White House race not to approve any new oil and gas leases on public lands, to reject the $8bn drilling effort.
The Willow project will add 239 million metric tons of carbon emissions to the atmosphere over the next 30 years – equivalent to the annual emissions of 64 coal-fired power plants. Environmental organisations have called it a “carbon bomb”.
‘Frivolous legal challenges’
Alaska lawmakers lobbied strongly for approval of the drilling plan, defending it as a source of several thousand jobs and a contributor to US energy independence with production of 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak, or some 576 million barrels over 30 years.
Reacting to the Biden administration’s approval, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan said legal efforts to stop the project were expected.
“We are prepared to defend this decision against likely frivolous legal challenges from the same Lower 48 NGOs who’ve consistently tried to kill the Willow project,” Sullivan said.
Biden has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 compared to 2005 with the goal of achieving a net zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.
“Once again, we find ourselves going to court to protect our lives, our communities, and our future,” Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of the group Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, was quoted by the Anchorage Daily News as saying.
“The Biden administration’s approval of the ConocoPhillips Willow project makes no sense for the health of the Arctic or the planet, and comes after numerous calls by local communities for tribal consultation and real recognition of the impacts to land, water, animals, and people.”
No comment was immediately available from the Interior Department.
The group Earthjustice said it will soon file another lawsuit to halt the drilling project.
“There is no question that the [Biden] administration possessed the legal authority to stop Willow — yet it chose not to,” said Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that the administration follows the law and ultimately makes good on this promise for future generations.”