Congressman Lowenthal, Natural Resources Committee Leadership, Call on Administration to Suspend Action On Massive Alaskan Oil Development Plan

May 4, 2020
Press Release

Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), chair of the House Natural Resource Committee’s (HNRC) Energy and Mineral Resource subcommittee,  joined with leaders of the HNRC today to demand the administration suspend any further action on a massive Alaska oil development that could see the Department of the Interior expand to cover three-quarters of the nation’s largest piece of unprotected wilderness.

Cosigned by HNRC Chair Raúl Grijalva, HNRC Water, Oceans, and Wildlife subcommittee chair Jared Huffman, HNRC Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. subcommittee chair Ruben Gallego, and HNRC National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands subcommittee chair Deb Haaland, the letter to the Department of the Interior calls for the immediate suspension of administration action on the supplemental draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS) for the ConocoPhillips’ Willow Plan which would see the development of up to 250 wells, pipelines, a central processing plant, an airport, and a gravel mine west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  The SDEIS being sought by the administration could increase the acreage open to new development under the Willow Plan up to 18.3 million acres, just over 55 percent larger than under the current plan.  

The Members wrote, “It is unacceptable for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to move forward with the Willow Plan public comment periods, public meetings, and subsistence hearings in the middle of a global pandemic that is especially dangerous to rural Alaska communities.”

The letter points out that a recent attempt at a virtual public meeting for North Slope residents on the project by the Bureau of Land Management was plagued by technological glitches and bandwidth constraints, and during the current pandemic, in-person meetings run counter to social distancing protocols. BLM has already lost a court case by failing to provide adequate public comment opportunities for oil and gas projects, and the Members point out that they believe the supplemental EIS could face similar legal risk.

The Members add, “BLM has failed to recognize the cumulative infrastructure and development impacts ConocoPhillips’ oil and gas project will have on the region. Neither the draft EIS nor the SDEIS is sufficient to fulfill BLM’s NEPA requirement to consider a reasonable range of alternatives. Furthermore, the SDEIS fails to consider any alternatives that are protective of sensitive resources in the region.”

Urging the administration to not open any additional acreage to new oil and gas projects, the Members conclude the letter by stating, “The Willow Plan is a continuation of efforts by the Trump Administration to advance its aggressive oil and gas development agenda, ignoring the public health, environmental, subsistence, and climate impacts these projects will have. The administration’s efforts for the Willow Plan are particularly egregious given the encroachment into the protected Special Areas, impact on subsistence resources, and the inadequate public outreach efforts during the COVID-19 crisis, which is effectively silencing Alaska Native voices by providing inadequate opportunities for public participation by the impacted communities in the process.”

To read the full text of the letter, please click here.