“We are heading to court to stop the U.S. Department of the Interior’s brazen rush to drill anywhere it can in the Arctic. The massive Willow project threatens the future of imperiled Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, other wildlife and people that call the Arctic home. As the Arctic continues to melt at alarming rates and the signs of climate change are all around us, the agency has just doubled-down on its plan to drill in the Arctic,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director of Defenders of Wildlife. 

Anchorage, AK

Six groups filed a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court charging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department with illegally and prematurely authorizing the massive Willow oil and gas project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. BLM approved the project despite its harms to Arctic communities, public health, and wildlife, and without a plan to effectively mitigate those harms. The suit also challenges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for underestimating Willow’s harm to protected polar bears.

“We are heading to court to stop the U.S. Department of the Interior’s brazen rush to drill anywhere it can in the Arctic,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director of Defenders of Wildlife. 

BLM’s record of decision greenlights the ConocoPhillips Willow proposal despite a lack of information about the project, and while acknowledging intense, long-term and harmful impacts to food access, traditional activities, sociocultural systems, and public health in Arctic communities in and around the Reserve. 

The people of Nuiqsut in particular would endure increased air pollution, repeated blasting, and continued rapid industrialization that would lead to significant physical and mental health harms. 

"The true cost of oil and gas extraction can be seen in rising health related issues, respiratory illnesses, and rare cancer clusters all over the Arctic Slope,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic.“We have seen severed family connections, once thriving subsistence use areas too toxic to hunt or gather from, and our traditional practices and diet being eradicated because of the fossil fuel industry." 

The Willow project would significantly expand ConocoPhillips’ extensive oil and gas extraction operation in the Arctic. Willow includes a new oil and gas processing facility, massive satellite drill pads with up to fifty wells on each pad, a spider web of roads, a new airstrip, pipelines, and two gravel mines within a protected river setback and requires barging and delivery of giant modules over a newly-constructed Colville River ice bridge. ConocoPhillips has not applied for any permits from BLM, meaning the Trump administration is taking the unprecedented step of authorizing a project before it even has a complete permit application.

Today’s lawsuit charges BLM with violating the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and FWS with violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing the Willow project to proceed despite projections that it would seriously injure or kill polar bear cubs. 

“The massive Willow project threatens the future of imperiled Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, other wildlife and people that call the Arctic home. As the Arctic continues to melt at alarming rates and the signs of climate change are all around us, the agency has just doubled-down on its plan to drill in the Arctic,” said Whittington-Evans. 

The public interest non-profit law firm Trustees for Alaska filed the suit in Anchorage, Alaska, on behalf of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.         

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

Media Contact

Gwen Dobbs
Gwen Dobbs
Director of Media Relations
gdobbs@defenders.org
(202) 772-0269

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