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Northstar oil field, Alaska, USA

Greenpeace and Inupiat groups tried to stop exploitation of oil in Beaufort Sea through a court case, but this failed in 2001.


In October 1999, Greenpeace and six native Alaskan Inupiat Eskimos filed a petition against the development by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. of the Northstar oil field in the Beaufort Sea, the first offshore oil project in the Alaskan Arctic. The petitioners sought to challenge the US Secretary of the Interiors 1999 approval of the Development and Production Plan (DPP) of the Northstar oil and gas development project. The Inupiats alleged that approval would harm their subsistence lifestyle because it threatened their ability to continue hunting, fishing, and gathering traditional subsistence resources. The plaintiffs claimed that the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was inadequate; they argued that it failed to sufficiently analyse the impact of the Northstar project on the Inupiats lifestyle. The plaintiffs also claimed that the oil discharge prevention and contingency plan did not comply with the requirements of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Northstar oil field, Alaska, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Alaska
Location of conflict:Northstar, Beaufort Sea
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

In 2001 it was triumphally reported [2] that the First Oil Flows from Northstar. Interior Secretary Gale Norton and her senior advisor for Alaska affairs, Drue Pearce, announced that the first oil from federal waters off Alaska was produced November 1st at the BP Exploration Northstar project. Northstar became the first outer continental shelf development project since federal offshore leasing began in 1976 off Alaska. This important project is calculated to produce 175 million barrels of oil – enough energy to fuel nearly 1 million American automobiles for six years, Secretary Norton said. The project underwent an exhaustive review by both the State of Alaska and the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

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Level of Investment:686,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:10/1999
Company names or state enterprises:BP
Relevant government actors:US Secretary of the Interior
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Global warming
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:On 26 September 2001, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, denied the petitioners request to review the Department of Interiors approval of the DPP on the basis that the EIS reasonably documented the environmental effects of Northstar In reviewing the EIS, the standard used by the Court was whether it contained a reasonably thorough discussion of the significant aspects of the environmental consequences that may be caused by the project, including the impact of the project on the Inupiats subsistence lifestyle. The Court of Appeals dismissed the complaint relating to the oil response plan because it did not have jurisdiction over this matter. Only the US District Court had jurisdiction under the federal Oil Pollution Act to review the spill response plan.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

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US Oil Pollution Act of 1990

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: [PDF] Edwardsen v. US Dept. of the Interior and BP Exploration, 26 Sep 2001

BP: Environmental and Social Report 1998 [scroll to page 11]

Greenpeace: Greenpeace, Inupiat Eskimos launch court challenge against BP Amocos Arctic oil drilling, 30 Mar 2000

Greenpeace, Eskimos Sue to Stop BP Amoco Arctic Site, Reuters, 21 Oct 1999

GREENPEACE NORTHSTAR: 9th Circuit denies challenge to oil plan. Sun | Local. The Associated Press — Sep 27th, 2001

9th Circuit Court of Appeals denies challenge to Northstar oil development, Maureen Clark, Associated Press, 27 Sep 2001

Greenpeace: Inupiat Eskimos and Greenpeace go to Court to challenge BP Amoco Oil Drilling in the Arctic Ocean, 21 Oct 1999

Case summary: Edwardsen v. United States Department of the Interior, Lewis and Clark Law Schools Environmental Law Online

GREENPEACE NORTHSTAR: 9th Circuit denies challenge to oil plan. Sun | Local. The Associated Press — Sep 27th, 2001
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Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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[1] Reuters, 28 Febr. 2007
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[1] Reuters, Febr. 2007

[2] First Oil Flows from Northstar. MMS. Friday, November 02, 2001
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[2] First Oil Flows from Northstar. MMS. Friday, November 02, 2001

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[3]Occupation of BP's Arctic Barge Ends in Arrests.

The arrested are Americans Matteo Williford and Kimberely Medeiros, and Britons Stephanie Tunmore, Stan Vincent and Kevin Benn.

The barge had been carrying a control center and accommodation to the Northstar site, which encompasses about 60 square miles in the Beaufort Sea, about six miles from Prudhoe Bay.

Construction of the $686 million project, the Arctic Ocean's first offshore oil installation, is more than half complete. Production is due to begin in late 2001.
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Meta information
Contributor:Irene Pietropaoli
Last update20/02/2020
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