Energy

Environmental groups sue to stop federal approval of exploration at Alaska oil project

National Petroleum Rese_033

Environmental groups are suing the Biden administration over its approval of a five-year exploration program at the Peregrine oil field, a potentially huge prospect on Alaska’s North Slope being explored by a small Australian company.

The groups assert that the Bureau of Land Management violated federal law because environmental assessments for the project did not consider greenhouse gas emissions that could be burned as the oil is used, according to the 36-page complaint. The agency began approving work at the prospect in 2020, the lawsuit says.

Earthjustice filed the complaint on behalf of Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace USA, in U.S. District Court in Alaska.

88 Energy, a small Australia company, announced last year that drilling at Peregrine had revealed an estimate discovery of more than 1.6 billion barrels of light oil. The field is located in the federally managed National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. It is about 40 miles south of the large ConocoPhillips Willow prospect, also in NPR-A. Emerald House, a subsidiary of 88 Energy, was granted the exploration approvals.

The extraction and burning of the oil, if all of it is produced and consumed, would release the carbon equivalent of 173 coal-fired power plants, more than the Willow project, the groups said in a statement Thursday. Conservation groups have also sued to stop Willow, leading to an additional regulatory review for that project that is currently underway.

“We are beyond frustrated with Biden’s rubber stamping of Big Oil’s drilling in Alaska’s vulnerable and wild places,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth, in a statement from the group. “Unfortunately, the administration failed to see how this unlawful decision throws yet another carbon bomb at our rapidly warming planet.”

The federal agency assessed “only a fraction” of the direct emissions associated with on-the-ground exploration activity, the complaint argues. Yet, the rate of climate change is rapidly increasing and threatening the planet, the complaint says.

“BLM’s failure to analyze these reasonably foreseeable greenhouse gas emissions consequences from approving the Peregrine exploration program violates (the National Environmental Policy Act),” the complaint says.

Representatives with the federal agency, as well as 88 Energy, declined to comment.

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 alex@adn.com.

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