Federal judge rejects North Slope tribe’s challenge to Conoco drilling program

The village of Nuiqsut in June 2018. Nuiqsut is near a growing number of oil developments in the western Arctic, and its tribal government sued to challenge the federal government’s approval of ConocoPhillips’ drilling plans from last winter. (Photo: Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason has rejected a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s approval of oil drilling and other industrial activity near Nuiqsut.

[Read Judge Gleason’s decision]

The North Slope village sits at the eastern edge of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, and it’s become increasingly surrounded by oil development.

The local Alaska Native village corporation, Kuukpik Corp., has negotiated deals with oil companies, and residents have been rewarded with ample cash payments and cheap natural gas for heating. But some residents say that they have growing concerns about the oil industry’s impacts on subsistence wildlife and air quality.

In March, Nuiqsut’s tribal government joined with five national environmental groups to sue the Bureau of Land Management. They alleged that the agency failed to perform an adequate environmental review of ConocoPhillips’ exploration work that was authorized for the previous winter, which included drilling at up to eight sites, building 100 miles of ice roads and snow trails, creating 23 ice pads and an airstrip and installing temporary housing

Gleason upheld the environmental review in a 73-page decision released Thursday. She ruled that the review did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act or the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, as the tribal government and environmental groups alleged.

A BLM spokesman, Eric Tausch, declined to comment. The tribal government’s administrator and ConocoPhillips officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.