Energy & Environment

Administration weighs options for Alaska drilling project that would produce 629M barrels of oil

FILE – In this April 24, 2015, file photo, pumpjacks work in a field near Lovington, N.M. An Indigenous leader from New Mexico and former U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt called on the federal government Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, to overhaul its oil and gas leasing program to ensure protection of cultural resources, saying for far too long tribal knowledge and expertise has been ignored to the detriment of the landscapes such as those surrounding Bears Ears National Monument and Chaco Culture National Historical Park. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

The Biden administration is weighing several options for the future of a major proposed drilling project in Alaska that could produce massive quantities of oil and significantly contribute to climate change. 

The administration released an environmental review that said that at its peak, the project could produce more than 180,000 barrels of oil per day and produce a total of 629 million barrels overall over the course of a 30-year duration.

It found that the project could contribute between 278 million and nearly 287 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to climate change over the same time period.

That’s the equivalent of the carbon dioxide contribution of between about 59.9 million and 61.8 million cars that are driven for a year. 

The review contains several “alternatives” for the ultimate decision that the administration may make on the project including blocking it, allowing it to proceed as sponsor ConocoPhillips proposed and shrinking the project. 

The document doesn’t list a “preferred” option, and a spokesperson for the department confirmed that all of them would be given equal consideration.

The document’s release comes after a court tossed the Trump-era approval of the project, known as the Willow Project, last year. 

A judge argued that the analysis behind that approval was flawed for environmental reasons, including a lack of consideration of climate impacts. The judge ordered the Biden administration to redo it. 

The Biden administration had initially backed the Trump-era approval, but did not appeal the court’s decision. 

The latest analysis comes as the Biden administration is in a tight political spot. The president is seeking to both energize the environmentalist base ahead of the midterms, and deal with the optics surrounding high gasoline prices. 

It has similarly punted in terms of the future of offshore drilling, recently proposing between zero and 11 offshore lease sales between 2023 and 2028.

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