Several conservation groups brought a pair of lawsuits against the federal government on Friday asserting it did not meet environmental guidelines before holding recent lease sales in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Both lawsuits target the Bureau of Land Management, which held the sales, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, among others. Both were filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.
In one lawsuit, five groups, led by the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, assert that thorough environmental reviews analyzing potential impacts from oil and gas development were not prepared before the 2017 lease sale, violating federal laws including the National Environmental Policy Act.
The environmental impacts need to be studied carefully because of potential threats from pollution to wetlands, caribou and subsistence hunters, said Lisa Baraff, program director for NAEC, based in Fairbanks.
Those ecological values are extremely important, said Baraff.
Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said the lawsuits are a "predictable page in the playbook" of groups that want oil kept in the ground.
"We know that development and subsistence and protection of the environment can coexist, because it has coexisted on the North Slope for over 40 years," she said.
Five other groups are suing in a different lawsuit filed by Earthjustice. That lawsuit says the 2016 and 2017 lease sales should be nullified, in part because BLM did not take a hard look at how the climate and future greenhouse gas emissions might be affected by increased development in the reserve.
Jim Hart, BLM spokesman, said the agency is not commenting on pending litigation.
The agency on Dec. 6 offered 10.3 million acres for lease, a record amount in the 23-million acre reserve.
The 2016 lease offering was smaller, but far more tracts sold.
ConocoPhillips led the buying both years and has multiple projects underway in the region, including the Willow prospect in the reserve that it says could produce 100,000 barrels of oil daily.
The lawsuits argue that large oil discoveries in recent years could lead to expanded industrial activity in NPR-A.
On the heels of those discoveries, the U.S. Geological Survey in late December sharply boosted the estimated oil that could be technically recovered from the reserve and nearby acreage, to a mean of 8.7 billion barrels.