A federal court Thursday upheld the Biden administration’s approval of a massive oil drilling project in Alaska, over objections from environmentalists.
Judge Sharon Gleason, an Obama appointee, upheld the approval, finding that the Biden administration took adequate steps to assess the project’s impacts in areas challenged by the plaintiffs.
Under the Willow Project, which the Biden administration approved earlier this year, ConocoPhillips will be able to drill 576 million barrels of oil in Alaska over 30 years.
In light of the decision, ConocoPhillips said it would move ahead with construction plans for this winter.
“Willow underwent nearly five years of rigorous regulatory review and environmental analysis, including extensive public involvement from the communities closest to the project site,” said Erec Isaacson, president of ConocoPhillips Alaska, in a written statement.
“We now want to make this project a reality and help Alaskan communities realize the extensive benefits of responsible energy development,” Isaacson added.
The project garnered massive pushback from numerous young people, progressives and environmentalists, going viral in the days ahead of the administration’s decision.
While Thursday’s opinion is a significant blow to the project’s opponents, they are planning to appeal.
“We are entirely confident in our claims, and plan to appeal to the higher court,” said Erik Grafe, an attorney with Earthjustice, said in a written statement.
“Beyond the illegality of Willow’s approval, Interior’s decision to greenlight the project in the first place moved us in the opposite direction of our national climate goals in the face of the worsening climate crisis,” Grafe added.
The Biden administration has said that it approved the project due to legal constraints.
“My strong inclination was to disapprove of it across the board but the advice I got from counsel was that if that were the case, I may very well lose…that case in court to the oil company and then not be able to do what I really want to do beyond that,” Biden said in March.
The project was first approved by the Trump administration in 2020, but was later sent back to the Biden administration for further consideration after a court found that a Trump-era environmental review was inadequate.
Updated 7:55 p.m. Nov. 9