More than 65 million acres of the Beaufort Sea will up for sale next year to oil and gas companies.
Photo: AP

Environmental groups have come for the first oil and gas project in federal Arctic waters.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, and Pacific Environment filed a lawsuit Monday with the help of Earthjustice alleging that the Liberty Project, an oil project President Donald Trump approved in October in the Beaufort Sea along Alaska’s northern coast, is illegal.

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The facility would sit offshore on a nine-acre artificial gravel island, which has proven more tricky than previously anticipated. In fact, Texas-based developer Hilcorp needs some winter sea ice to arrive at the project’s planned site in order to build the island. Ironically, warmer winters have resulted in less sea ice, causing the project be delayed.

Anyway, the groups suing the Trump administration allege that its approval broke federal environmental laws and that it ignores the project’s impacts on climate change. They note that this project sits in polar bear habitat, and these animals already have enough on their plate. They worry the facility and the underwater pipeline it’ll use to transport the oil back onshore could result in a spill that’d devastate the local ecosystems.

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This wouldn’t impact only the animals that live here; it’d also impact the people who rely on the water and animals for their living. Alaska Natives still use this land, ice, and water to travel and hunt for their subsistence.

“When it rubber-stamped this project, the administration illegally failed to take a hard look at the consequences it will bring for imperiled polar bears,” said Rebecca Noblin, staff attorney with Earthjustice, in a press release. “It misled the public about this project’s contribution to climate change. According to the agency’s fuzzy math, drilling for oil will actually reduce climate change.”

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The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding an offshore lease sale next year for this part of the Arctic. For the public comment period, officials want to hear about any alternative areas Alaska Natives can continue their subsistence whaling practices. The Trump administration is hell-bent on allowing oil companies to drill in this pristine part of the world, but opponents don’t plan letting that happen easily.

Many of these groups are also suing the administration on its reversal of former President Barack Obama’s ban on Arctic drilling. 

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