A lawsuit over a key federal permit is still in court, but ConocoPhillips isn’t slowing down on its construction of CD-5, a small satellite oil deposit near the Alpine oil field on the North Slope.
“Work on CD-5 is continuing,” ConocoPhillips spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said.
U.S. Alaska District Court judge Sharon Gleason accepted briefs June 20 on a suit filed by six villagers from Nuiqsut, a nearby Inupiat community, who claim construction of a bridge over a Colville River channel and roads to the CD-5 production pad will impair their subsistence activity.
The lawsuit was filed last year by Trustees for Alaska, an environmental law firm, on behalf of the six plaintiffs, against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Earlier this year, Gleason found that the permit for the bridge and roads issued by the corps had not been adequately justified.
The State of Alaska and ConocoPhillips intervened in the case in the defense of the corps, along with the North Slope Borough and the Alaska Native corporations who own the surface and mineral rights.
Gleason asked parties in the case for recommendations on remedies to the permit problem, and those were filed June 20. Reponses to those briefs are required by July 1.
Trustees for Alaska proposed that Gleason order an injunction to stop work on the project until the issue on the permit it resolved. The Corps of Engineers proposed to prepare a justification for the permit and file it with the court within 90 days.
ConocoPhillips supported the corps proposal and urged Gleason not to halt construction. The company offered to limit its activity this summer to work on gravel pads that have already been constructed. ConocoPhillips, in its brief, said a work stoppage would disrupt the project and cause environmental harm.
Kuukpik Corp., the Native village corporation for Nuiqsit, sided with the corps and ConocoPhillips and took a position opposite the six village plaintiffs, arguing that delays in completing the bridge and roads would impair the village’s access to subsistence resources.
Isaac Nukapigak, president of Kuukpik, said his corporation, in which almost all Nuiqsut residents are shareholders, had worked with ConocoPhillips earlier to move the bridge and road routing to locations that would reduce impacts on subsistence activity.
Nukapigak also warned that delaying the project and leaving CD-5 roads and bridges partly finished could create hazards for the villagers since some may be tempted to use the uncompleted facilities to reach subsistence sites.
Kuukpik owns the surface mineral rights at CD-5; Arctic Slope Regional Corp., which has also intervened in the case on the side of the corps, owns the subsurface rights.
The lawsuit, filed last year, claims that construction of a bridge and placement of gravel of wetlands will impair habitat important to subsistence activities by the village.
The case is being watched closely by the industry and the state because CD-5 is the first commercial development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and the road and bridge infrastructure will also support ConocoPhillips’ development of other NPR-A projects including Greater Moose’s Tooth-1, or GMT-1, another project eight miles west of CD-5.
If it stays on schedule, CD-5 will begin production in late 2015 and will produce 16,000 barrels per day at peak. GMT-1 is scheduled to begin producing in late 2017, with 30,000 b/d peak production, but ConocoPhillips’ board must still approve the project. The company is now working on permits for the project and a draft supplemental environmental impact statement is expected this fall from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which administers the federally-owned NPR-A.
Trustees for Alaska, in its original lawsuit, argued the corps approved the CD-5 permit without adequately justifying a decision allowing a bridge across the Colville River, and roads to the CD-5 site, over an alternative the corps itself approved earlier for an underground pipeline crossing of the river and no road to the site. Trustees said the agency did not adequately explain why it had switched its position.
“The (federal) court found the corps had failed to provide a reasoned explanation for why no supplemental NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis was necessary to address substantive project changes. The changes to align road, pad location and bridge location all have a substantive and significant bearing on the project’s impact to subsistence resources, making the failure to consider the changes significant and serious,” Trustees wrote.
In its request for an injunction filed June 20, the environmental firm cited precedents where federal courts have vacated permits and ordered injunctions where similar flaws in permits were uncovered.
In March this year, Gleason declined to issue an injunction to stop construction at CD-5.
In its filings, ConocoPhillips outlined work that has been completed at CD-5 and activity planned for 2014. In a document filed with the court, James Brodie, ConocoPhillips’ CD-5 project manager, said the entire gravel “footprint” for the project is in place and includes the road, CD-5 pad an valve access pads.
A small amount of gravel is needed on top of the Nigliq channel bridge east abutment, which will be placed next winter without expanding the footprint area.
Four bridge structures were installed last winter including foundations of tubular steel piling, gravel-filled sheet pile abutments, steel superstructure and concrete and deck guardrails.
One bridge is totally complete; two others are structurally complete but require minor deck work. The main bridge of the project, the Nigliq channel crossing, has its piling and other structure but the final span has yet to be installed. That is planned this fall.
In work this summer, Brodie said a construction crew started work June 1 on tie-in work for the CD-5 pipeline at the central Alpine production facility. The work mainly involves welding.
In July, construction crews will mobilize to begin contouring and shaping, and compacting, the gravel that was laid last winter. Typically gravel placed one winter on the Slope must be allowed to “season” over a summer to allow ice to melt out. After that it can used the next winter. This work will be done by Sept. 15, Brodie said.
Also, a logistics and material team at Deadhorse will be receiving pipeline materials in July, including pipe sections, pipe supports and saddles. Finally, a construction crew will start work in September to prepare the placement of the final spans on the Nigliq Channel bridge. That will occur in November, Brodie said.