Conservation groups sue to halt winter work at large ConocoPhillips exploration project

Environmental groups filed a motion in federal court on Wednesday to halt upcoming winter work planned this season at ConocoPhillips’ large Willow oil prospect in northern Alaska, saying the Trump administration has illegally approved construction of the project.

Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic and five conservation groups want to stop the project, which would be built in the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, home to migratory birds, polar bears and calving grounds for the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd.

The field could potentially produce 600 million barrels of oil over a 30-year life, according to estimates.

The groups, including the Northern Alaska Environmental Center and Sierra Club, asked the U.S. District Court in Anchorage to prevent ConocoPhillips from building ice roads and conducting gravel mining needed to support the project.

Halting the work would be bad for Alaska’s economy as it seeks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, said Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, a voice for ConocoPhillips and other oil and gas companies.

“Winter work at Willow means much-needed jobs, and continued progress on a project that could see many jobs long into the future,” Moriarty said in a text message.

The Trump administration approved the Willow project in October. The motion was filed as part of a lawsuit brought by groups in November.


“We need the exploitation of the Arctic to stop, and the prioritization of our health and well-being to begin again,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of the Sovereign Inupiat group, in a prepared statement.

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The groups argue that the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have not properly analyzed environmental impacts of the Willow project before issuing permits.

“The motion asks the court to stop all Willow construction activities until it has time to evaluate the entire case,” the groups said in the statement.

They’re seeking a ruling on the motion by Feb. 1, before work begins, they said.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or