Today, a fed­er­al judge deter­mined that a pro­posed drilling ven­ture on Alaska’s North Slope was improp­er­ly green­lit by the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment in a big vic­to­ry for cli­mate jus­tice. The rul­ing nix­es the devel­op­ment per­mits approved by the Trump regime, which were not with­drawn by the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion, stop­ping the drilling scheme from mov­ing for­ward for at least the time being:

In a writ­ten order, U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge Sharon Glea­son said the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice incor­rect­ly approved the Wil­low oil project, which could pro­duce more than 160,000 bar­rels of oil per day from the Nation­al Petro­le­um Reserve-Alas­ka, west of Prud­hoe Bay.

The project has been seen by its devel­op­er, Cono­coPhillips, as part of a “renais­sance” in North Slope oil devel­op­ment. Sev­er­al con­ser­va­tion groups sued the BLM in Novem­ber, say­ing the agency under­es­ti­mat­ed the plan’s harm to wildlife, among oth­er factors.

“This is a huge deal,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Sov­er­eign Inu­pi­at for a Liv­ing Arc­tic, the lead plain­tiff in the lawsuit.

“This will actu­al­ly stop the entire project, they will have to do every­thing over again,” she said.

It would be bet­ter for the Earth, of course, if they did­n’t — our cli­mate can’t afford more projects like “Wil­low” — but Big Oil rarely gives up so eas­i­ly. This court case is like­ly to con­tin­ue. But the good news is, at least for now, Cono­coPhillips can’t press for­ward with its plans to fur­ther exploit Alaska’s North Slope.

And that’s good news for our plan­et and the future of Alaska.

“Alas­ka Native peo­ples, as the first stew­ards of this land, were some of the first to notice the effects of cli­mate [dam­age] on our most valu­able resources. We see the impact on whales, seals, and polar bears across the North Slope, forests through­out the Inte­ri­or, and salmon runs through­out the coastal south,” a group of young Alaskans wrote in a guest essay ear­li­er this month.

“In every cor­ner of Alas­ka, it’s evi­dent that coastal ero­sion caus­es entire vil­lages to relo­cate, green­house gas­es acid­i­fy oceans and threat­en fish stock col­laps­es, and Arc­tic warm­ing is three times faster than the glob­al aver­age,” they observed, allud­ing to how lit­tle time is left to change course.

“Alaskan ways of life, as well as indus­tries from seafood to tourism, stand to suf­fer. Even though not all our ances­tors lived on these lands, our descen­dants might — and we owe it to them and our­selves to ensure this incred­i­ble place we all call home sur­vives to see them.

Alaska’s Repub­li­can elect­ed offi­cials, like the char­ac­ters in The Lorax, only see lost dol­lar signs. They care about short-term prof­its and lit­tle else.

“Alas­ka resource devel­op­ment pays the bills for pub­lic safe­ty, edu­ca­tion and the health and well-being of all Alaskans,” grum­bled State Sen­a­tor Josh Revak. “This rul­ing is heart­break­ing for the hard-work­ing men and women in the industry.”

Revak’s com­ments are a tac­it acknowl­edge that Alas­ka is seri­ous­ly addict­ed to oil mon­ey and has neglect­ed to devel­op sus­tain­able sources of rev­enue to sup­port the state’s essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices. Dev­as­tat­ing cli­mate impacts that could destroy Alaskans’ way of life are sim­ply not a con­cern for Revlak and extrem­ist Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Mike Dun­leavy, who called Judge Glea­son’s deci­sion “hor­ri­ble.” For them, any­thing that gets in the way of more oil drilling is bad.

Dun­leavy’s admin­is­tra­tion had inter­vened in the law­suit along with the state’s North Slope Bor­ough in the hopes of help­ing Cono­coPhillips prevail.

But their involve­ment did not result in a favor­able out­come for the oil giant.

Glea­son con­clud­ed that the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment made sev­er­al fatal errors when it gave Cono­coPhillips its seal of approval to go ahead with Willow:

  • BLM’s exclu­sion of for­eign green­house gas emis­sions in its alter­na­tives analy­sis in the EIS was arbi­trary and capricious
  • BLM act­ed con­trary to law inso­far as it devel­oped its alter­na­tives analy­sis based on the view that Cono­coPhillips had the right to extract all pos­si­ble oil and gas from its leases
  • BLM act­ed con­trary to law in its alter­na­tive analy­sis for the Teshekpuk Lake Spe­cial Area inso­far as it failed to con­sid­er the statu­to­ry direc­tive that it give “max­i­mum pro­tec­tion” to sur­face val­ues in that area

Cono­coPhillips’ reac­tion was quite mut­ed com­pared to Dun­leavy’s, with the com­pa­ny mere­ly say­ing that it would review the deci­sion and weigh its options.

The Nation­al Petro­le­um Reserve in Alas­ka con­sists of around twen­ty-three mil­lion acres of Arc­tic ter­rain. It is locat­ed adja­cent to the Arc­tic Refuge, which Dun­leavy and oth­er oil fanat­ics also want to drill in, but which Big Oil has lost inter­est in exploit­ing, in part because the optics of drilling in the Refuge are ter­ri­ble and in part because Wall Street banks have drawn a line in the tun­dra (so to speak) and have said they won’t finance any oil drilling projects there.

The Biden admin­is­tra­tion served notice a few weeks ago that it was paus­ing the oil and gas drilling leas­es that the Trump regime hasti­ly approved in its final days. The leas­es remain sus­pend­ed pend­ing fur­ther envi­ron­men­tal review. (The Alas­ka Indus­tri­al Devel­op­ment and Indus­tri­al Author­i­ty, a state agency, was the sole bid­der on most of the tracts. It takes its march­ing orders from Dunleavy.)

The Alas­ka Wilder­ness League has urged the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion to can­cel the leas­es out­right, a move that NPI strong­ly sup­ports. How­ev­er, the autho­riza­tion the Trump regime relied upon needs to be repealed by Con­gress before the Arc­tic Refuge will be rea­son­ably pro­tect­ed from drilling schemes.



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