The Bureau of Land Management Alaska released its revised draft environmental review of ConocoPhillips’ proposed Willow Master Development Plan in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.
The BLM prepared the draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to address problems identified by Judge Sharon Gleason when she vacated the Trump Administration’s approval of the project.
ConocoPhillips purchased the Willow Project leases in the 1990s. This draft SEIS presents a range of alternatives, including a “no action” alternative, and does not represent any final decision on the Willow Project. The BLM will make a final decision only after considering public comments on the draft SEIS and completing its analysis.
The draft SEIS includes a corrected and expanded analysis of potential climate impacts associated with the Willow Project. This expanded climate analysis, among other things, addresses the court’s finding that the original analysis failed to consider downstream foreign emissions resulting from the consumption of oil produced by the project.
In order to consider an alternative with modified infrastructure in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (TLSA), the draft SEIS also includes a new alternative that would reduce the potential footprint of the proposed Willow Project by removing two of the five proposed drill sites from consideration, including eliminating the northernmost proposed drill site and associated infrastructure in the TLSA. Under this alternative, BLM expects that the company would relinquish significant lease rights in the TLSA, an ecologically important wetland that hosts thousands of birds and the Teshekpuk caribou herd, that are part of the Bear Tooth Unit and the proposed Willow Project. For purposes of providing a complete picture of potential impacts of the Willow Project, this alternative includes analysis of a fourth potential drill site that would be deferred, meaning that it would require an additional review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and is not being considered for inclusion in the new alternative.
As reflected in the draft SEIS, BLM will reinitiate consultation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) concerning listed species, including polar bear. This consultation will include consideration of mitigation measures and updates to the range of alternatives.
The draft SEIS was developed following a public scoping comment period as well as close coordination with eight cooperating agencies (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, North Slope Borough, State of Alaska, Native Village of Nuiqsut, and City of Nuiqsut) and external stakeholders.
The BLM plans to hold (public health measures permitting) in-person public meetings in Utqiagvik, Anchorage and Nuiqsut, as well as three virtual public meetings. A subsistence-related hearing to receive comments on the proposed Project’s potential to impact subsistence resources and activities will also be held in Nuiqsut concurrent with the in-person public meeting. The BLM will continue to consult with potentially affected federally recognized Tribes on a government-to-government basis, and to work with Alaska Native communities to ensure their voices are heard in our decision-making process.
The Willow Master Development Plan Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement is available at the BLM’s NEPA Register https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/109410/570 or a copy may be requested from the BLM’s State Office in Anchorage.
Following publication in the Federal Register, the BLM will announce public meetings, subsistence-related hearings, and any other public participation activities at least 15 days in advance on the NEPA Register program page, as well as through public notices, news releases, social media posts, and/or mailings.
The BLM encourages the public to provide comments during the 45-day comment period, particularly concerning the adequacy and accuracy of the proposed alternatives, the analysis of its respective management decisions, and any new information that would help develop the final plan.
Kara Moriarty of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association said she is encouraged to see the Bureau of Land Management release the revised draft environmental review.
“Willow represents a near-term opportunity to help return the United States to energy independence at a time when our country desperately needs more domestic sources of oil and gas. Of course, a project the size of Willow will also boost Alaska’s economy, creating job opportunities and providing tax revenues to state, local, and federal governments. Alaskans have long supported development of our oil and gas resources. Now is the time to speak up and let the federal government know how those of us who call Alaska home feel about projects like Willow: no one cares more about protecting our environment or safely developing Alaska’s resources than Alaskans. Alaskans who want to be part of this significant step forward now have a 45-day comment period to make their voices heard,” she said.
Link to BLM’s documents: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/109410/570