ConocoPhillips’ Arctic Project Put on Ice After Court Order

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals extended an emergency order blocking ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc. from opening a gravel mine site and building roads to support its Willow oil development project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The decision means continued delays during the oil company’s already brief seasonal construction window in the harsh climate of northern Alaska.

An Alaska-based federal district judge issued an order barring construction activities on Feb. 6, and the new ruling leaving that injunction in place allows time for further proceedings in a case challenging the government’s approval of the project. Arguments aren’t expected until late April, at the earliest.

Representatives of ConocoPhillips did not immediately have comment on the matter.

Construction and operation of the company’s’ Willow project, which has the potential to produce 160,000 barrels of oil per day, is set to include as many as five drilling sites, a central processing facility, an operations center, up to 700 miles (1,126 kilometers) of ice roads, an airstrip, as many as 386 miles of pipelines, and a gravel mine site.

Conservation and indigenous groups have argued the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management failed to sufficiently analyze the environmental and climate impacts of the project. Environmentalists also have argued that planned gravel mining activities imperil a potential denning habitat for polar bears.

In the order issued late Saturday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said an injunction is necessary to prevent irreparable harm and at least one of the project opponents’ arguments is likely to succeed.

“We conclude that the balance of equities favors relief, that the balance of hardships tips sharply in appellants’ favor and that an injunction pending appeal is in the public interest,” the court said.

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