A surprise ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday gave its approval to the management plan for oil and gas drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, where ConocoPhillips is currently drilling and where it has plans for more wells.
The Bureau of Land Management’s environmental impact statement and management plan for the oil reserve had drawn a lawsuit from environmental groups. But a lower court ruling had upheld the BLM plans.
The Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, and Wilderness Society sought an injunction from the Ninth Circuit, saying BLM failed to analyze the environmental effects of a 2017 lease of 900 tracts that cover 10.3 million acres of reserve land.
ConocoPhillips’ oil find in the reserve is estimated to contain 130,000 barrels per day. The current flow in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System is under 500,000 barrels per day.
The Ninth Circuit, which usually sides with environmental groups, affirmed District Court Judge Sharon Gleason’s ruling that a 2012 environmental impact statement was adequate for the later oil and gas leases, and that the management plan isn’t something the government could just pull back once oil was found and the BLM had committed to the lease.
“We disagree with plaintiffs’ suggestion that a programmatic EIS prepared for a broad-scale land use plan categorically cannot provide the site-specific analysis required for irretrievable commitments of resources,” Judge Milan D. Smith wrote for the three-judge panel.