The Trump administration’s approval of a ConocoPhillips oil field project on Alaska’s Northern Slope was rescinded by a federal judge who said it failed to adequately protect polar bears and didn’t properly consider the effects on climate change.
Federal officials also failed to properly consider the Willow project’s possible harm to Teshekpuk Lake, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason said in a 110-page ruling issued late Wednesday.
“The court recognizes that vacatur would have considerable economic consequences to ConocoPhillips, which has already made a significant investment in the Willow Project,” the judge wrote. “And it would have a negative impact to the many other stakeholders in the project.”
But Gleason, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, said the evidence tipped in favour of rescinding the approvals and referred the issue to the appropriate agencies for further proceedings that are consistent with her ruling.
A ConocoPhillips spokewoman said the company would “review the decision and evaluate the options available regarding this project.”
The Trump administration approved permits for the project last year after concluding it wouldn’t harm the environment or wildlife. The Biden administration defended the project in court.
The Willow project has been projected to produce more than 160,000 barrels of oil a day and about 586 million barrels over its 30-year life. Construction on the project hasn’t started.
Environmentalists and Native Americans sued to halt the project, which they claimed would destroy polar bear and caribou habitat and forever alter the ecology of the Northern Slope.
The case is Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic v. Bureau of Land Management, 3:20-cv-00290, U.S. District Court, District of Alaska (Anchorage).
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