ConocoPhillips wins ruling to continue work on $8 billion “Willow” oil project

Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Bloomberg April 04, 2023

(Bloomberg) – A federal judge in Alaska denied a bid by environmentalists and an indigenous group to block ConocoPhillips from opening a gravel mine and conducting other work at its $8 billion Willow oil project in the state.

The order Monday from U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason gives ConocoPhillips a green light to continue initial operations during a narrow winter construction season in the Arctic that is expected to end later this month. Project foes had asked for the ruling while they challenge the Biden administration’s approval of the project that could yield as much as 600 MMbbl of oil, arguing the activity would irreparably harm wildlife and Alaska Natives who live near the site.

In a 44-page opinion, Gleason cited support from Alaska’s congressional delegation and lawmakers in the state legislature, calling it “a factor that tips strongly against the issuance of a preliminary injunction at this time.”

ConocoPhillips already had voluntarily agreed it wouldn’t conduct surface-disturbing construction activities at the mine until Tuesday, unless the court ruled on the matter before then.

The company argued last month that a preliminary injunction could jeopardize the entire Willow project because some of the company’s leases are at risk of expiration unless it begins oil production at the site by September 2029 — and that timeline depends on work in the coming years. “While that is over six years away, the risk is very real because of both the long lead times for construction and the short winter construction season,” the company said in a March 24 filing with the court.

ConocoPhillips so far has invested $758 million in the project and says it needs to spend an additional $1.5 billion in 2023 and 2024 to keep to that schedule.

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