Judge orders temporary halt to gravel work at ConocoPhillips Willow project site

 ConocoPhillips map showing GMT-1, GMT-2, and the Willow Discovery areas.
ConocoPhillips map showing GMT-1, GMT-2, and the Willow Discovery areas. (KTUU)
Published: Feb. 10, 2021 at 6:06 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Over the weekend, a judge ordered the temporary suspension of “breaking ground at the Willow Mine Site Area 2, including blasting, surface mining, or the use of other equipment to remove overburden or gravel.” Court rulings also stipulate that the construction of gravel roads is prohibited under these orders as well.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit that was filed last year, in response to the former President Donald Trump administration’s approval of plans related to the development of the Willow project. The plaintiff group is made up of tribal and environmental groups that oppose further development of lands near the village of Nuiqsut and the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area.

Siqiniq Maupin’s organization, Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic, is a member of the plaintiff party that is seeking an appeal of the record of decision that was issued last fall. Maupin’s family traces its roots for thousands of years, back to the area where Nuiqsut is located today. She says the temporary suspension of some of the work is encouraging, but her hope is that long-term protections will be issued for the areas in question.

“I think it’s the least that could happen, that we have an injunction until this decision is made,” she told Alaska’s News Source. “ConocoPhillips wanted to start blasting dynamite the day that the ruling was put down.”

ConocoPhillips declined to comment on matters of active litigation but did note that the judge’s orders will not prohibit the continued construction of ice roads near the site of the Willow project.

A spokesperson with the company did offer additional details regarding the background of the project through email, included notes that the development potentially means for hundreds of direct jobs, thousands of construction jobs and billions of dollars in oil tax and royalty revenues.

The judge’s temporary orders will expire on Feb. 20, or once a final decision is issued — whichever occurs first.

If the project is allowed to move forward, the first oil is expected in 2026.

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