A US appeals court panel is deciding if approvals granted in 2023 for the Willow oil project in Alaska will stand after facing a backlash from social justice groups. The Willow oil project, run by ConocoPhillips Alaska, was approved by the US Bureau of Land Management in March 2023.  

A coalition of environmental groups, as well as grassroots organisation Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, had already filed a lawsuit in 2023, alleging that the administration responsible for approving the project violated the Endangered Species Act by not accurately evaluating how the project would damage the habitats of polar bears in the area. The 2023 complaint states that the approval “does not consider the impacts of the direct or indirect greenhouse gas emissions from Willow or how these emissions would exacerbate climate change related impacts on polar bears.” 

While this lawsuit was dismissed by US District Court Judge Sharon Gleason in November 2023, the plaintiffs have now filed a new suit with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals alleging that ConocoPhillips Alaska did not fully consider a range of less environmentally damaging alternative plans. They argued that the Bureau of Land Management granted approvals “on the flawed premise that it must allow ConocoPhillips to extract all economically viable oil from its leases and assessed only a narrow range of action alternatives that each allowed nearly identical oil production”. 

ConocoPhillips Alaska maintains that the project meets all required standards. In a December 2023 statement, CEO Ryan Lance said: “Our employees and the contractor community have dedicated years to designing a project that will provide reliable energy while adhering to the highest environmental standards.”

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By GlobalData