The Alaska venture will add 239 million tons of carbon emissions to the atmosphere over the next 30 years as the Biden administration reverses its climate policies.
Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to halt a controversial oil drilling project in Alaska approved by the US government, which has promised strong action to combat climate change.
The six groups that filed the suit in U.S. District Court Tuesday accused the Department of the Interior and other agencies of violating the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and other laws by authorizing the extraction of fossil fuels.
“ConocoPhillips’ massive oil and gas project poses a real threat to the wildlife, ecosystems and communities of Arctic Alaska,” said Mike Scott of the Sierra Club, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“If they are allowed to break ground, the Willow project would be a climate disaster, the effects of which would be felt for decades.”
The Department of the Interior on Monday gave US energy giant ConocoPhillips the green light to drill for oil at three sites in the federal government-owned National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska’s pristine western Arctic.
Environmental groups had urged President Joe Biden, who had vowed during the 2020 White House race not to approve new oil and gas leases on public lands, to reject the $8 billion drilling effort.
The Willow project will add 239 million tons of carbon emissions to the atmosphere over the next 30 years – equivalent to the annual emissions from 64 coal plants. Environmental groups have called it a “carbon bomb”.
‘Frivolous legal challenges’
Alaska lawmakers have lobbied vigorously for approval of the drilling plan, defending it as a source of several thousand jobs and a contribution to U.S. energy independence with production of 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak, or some 576 million barrels over 30 years.
In response to the Biden administration’s approval, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan said legal efforts were expected to stop the project.
“We are prepared to defend this decision against likely frivolous legal challenges from the same Lower 48 NGOs that have consistently tried to destroy the Willow project,” Sullivan said.
Biden has pledged to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2005, with a goal of achieving a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 at the latest.
“Once again we must go to court to protect our lives, our communities and our future,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of the group Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic. quoted according to Anchorage Daily News.
“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 from local communities for inter-tribal consultations and genuine acknowledgment of the impacts on land, water , animals and people. ”
No comment was immediately available from the Interior Department.
The group Earthjustice said it will soon file a new lawsuit to halt the drilling project.
“There is no doubt that the government (Biden) had the legal authority to stop Willow — but it chose not to,” Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that the administration follows the law and ultimately delivers on this promise for future generations.”