Oil Project in Arctic Placed on Pause


If exploration results in development, burning the oil drilled from the so-called Peregrine project would release a carbon bomb — exactly at a time when the world’s top scientists saywe have to be transitioning to 100% clean energy or risk climate crisis. 

Though the Peregrine pause is a big step forward in reducing oil and gas drilling on publicly owned, federal lands like those within the Arctic, a close-by fossil fuel project, often called Willow, could soon win approval to proceed. If approved, the Willow project’s carbon impact might be equal to powering one-third of all coal plants within the U.S. for a yr. Earthjustice is fighting to finish this project too and keep all fossil fuels in the bottom — because we cannot afford to further endanger our planet. 

Fossil fuel pipelines crossing the Western Arctic in Alaska.

Kiliii Yuyan for Earthjustice

The Peregrine project began within the winter of 2020/2021, after the corporate wagered that the general public lands it had leased through the Trump administration could contain a large amount of oil. 88 Energy sold the project to investors by claiming the world could contain as much as 1.6 billion barrels of oil, which might have released staggering carbon emissions such as firing up 173 coal plants for a yr. That is along with the carbon emitted from the drilling project itself, which requires a whole bunch of hundreds of gallons of fossil fuels annually to power construction, exploration, camp, and cleanup activities. 

Despite Peregrine’s massive carbon output potential, the Biden administration’s Bureau of Land Management affirmed its approval without assessing the full climate impact. So in August 2022, we sued the agency, arguing that it violated a foundational environmental law called the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Referred to as the “People’s Environmental Law,” NEPA helps communities protect themselves from dangerous, rushed, or poorly planned federal projects by requiring the federal government to thoroughly examine the proposed project’s consequences, including its climate impacts.  

Meanwhile, Peregrine continued exploratory drilling, and they found less oil than expected, in line with the Bloomberg report. That, coupled with “aggressive” litigation from Earthjustice and our clients, “has put a chill” on Peregrine, in line with the Bloomberg report. 

The Western Arctic, the location of the currently paused Peregrine project, is home to migrating caribou.

Caribou across the Lake Teshekpuk area within the Western Arctic.

Kiliii Yuyan for Earthjustice

If the Peregrine project’s pause becomes everlasting, the reversal might be a definitive win for the climate — and for considered one of the world’s last great, wild places. The Western Arctic, a 23-million-acre territory, is home to polar bears, musk oxen, and migrating caribou, and its wetlands function a nursery for migratory birds from every continent. Yet oil corporations see the incontrovertible fact that this area stays “relatively unexplored” as an issue.   

For years, the fossil fuel industry has crept further into sensitive areas within the Western Arctic, establishing drilling rigs, ice roads, airstrips, and mines. Throughout the Trump administration, bids for brand new fossil-fuel drilling spiked dramatically, and now a patchwork of latest leases have been doled out to grease giants. This includes the ConocoPhillips’ Willow project, which might permanently alter the Arctic tundra with five drill sites, a central processing facility, an operations center pad, 37 miles of gravel roads, ice roads, airstrips, 385 miles of pipelines, and a gravel mine. 

A chart of the projected emissions from the Willow project.

Center for American Progress

While the Biden administration has made significant strides toward addressing climate change, it could also be poised to once more approve the Willow project after an Earthjustice victory in court last yr sent the project back to the administration for reconsideration.  The ultimate approval of Willow could come soon, and ConocoPhillips has stated publicly that it intends to start operations this winter. If Willow is allowed to proceed, the gravel roads snaking out from the event will pave a path for the oil industry to carve farther into the Western Arctic’s untouched lands.  

“Climate change poses an urgent, existential threat,” says Earthjustice attorney Jeremy Lieb. “Faced with this crisis, green-lighting a latest fossil fuel project similar to Willow is incompatible with Biden’s climate goals, in addition to maintaining a habitable life on earth.” 

The Willow project would equal the annual emissions of 66 coal plants.

Center for American Progress

Earthjustice has successfully fought back against Willow up to now, even securing a rare court-ordered pause in early 2021 that prevented construction from proceeding and a court victory later that yr vacating the project original approval. And we will proceed our fight against Willow, in addition to other fossil fuel fights within the Western Arctic that threaten people, critical species, and the place we call home. To date, greater than 200,000 individuals have submitted comments in opposition to the Willow project.

Take Motion! Call on Secretary of the Interior Haaland to stop the Willow project.

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