An appeals court has blocked construction of ConocoPhillips Co.’s $2 billion-plus Willow crude oil project in Alaska, putting on hold plans for one of the biggest oil projects in North Slope history.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a weekend order sided with environmental and Native plaintiffs who challenged the Trump administration’s go-ahead for ConocoPhillips’ Willow project. Trump made oil-and-gas drilling a priority during his four-year term, but his successor, Joseph Biden, has taken several steps to restrict fossil fuel development.
The Trump administration approved the Willow development plan in October. Permits to mine for gravel and build roads were issued on the morning of Jan. 20, just before Biden was sworn in as the nation's 46th president.
The injunction issued Feb. 13 night bars ConocoPhillips from conducting winter gravel mining and gravel road-building for the project while the lawsuit is ongoing.
Willow holds 590 million barrels of recoverable oil and could produce up to 160,000 bbl/d as soon as 2024, according to ConocoPhillips’ previous estimates. Located on federal land in the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska, Willow would be the North Slope’s westernmost producing oil field.
The 9th Circuit Court order followed a Feb. 6 lower-court order that briefly paused construction. Both orders concluded that ConocoPhillips’ gravel work would cause irreparable environmental harm.
Because most North Slope oilfield construction is limited to winter, the appeals court’s injunction likely precludes construction until at least January, said Bridget Psarianos, an attorney with Trustees for Alaska, the environmental law firm representing the plaintiffs.
“We are grateful that the court has put a stop to destructive on-the-ground construction and blasting work while our lawsuit makes its way through court,” Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, said in a statement released by Trustees for Alaska.
ConocoPhillips representatives were not available for comment.
ConocoPhillips continues to find ways to improve through the use of refracs, simul-fracs and other technologies, says Jack Harper, former Concho exec now leading Conoco’s Permian Basin team.
In the Lower 48 Big 3—Eagle Ford, Bakken and Permian Basin—ConocoPhillips plans to grow production by about 19% this year.
The view stands in contrast to that of rival BP Plc, which sees the coronavirus pandemic leaving a lasting effect on global energy demand, though ConocoPhillips still expects "quite a bit of uncertainty next year."