Energy & Environment

Biden approves controversial oil drilling project in Alaska

The Biden administration on Monday approved a massive drilling project in Alaska, allowing oil company ConocoPhillips to move ahead with the 30-year project over objections from environmental groups.

While not a surprise, the move to greenlight the Willow Project is expected to rankle President Biden’s liberal and climate-minded allies, who have opposed the move. 

According to the decision document, the project would produce 576 million barrels of oil, spurring 239 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — equivalent to driving more than 51 million gasoline-powered cars for a year.

“It would be an enormous carbon bomb. It is the largest single project currently proposed on federal lands,” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, ahead of the project’s approval. 

The final project includes three drill sites, rejecting a fourth site that would have been included but deferred in the department’s proposed approval last month. 

The change is expected to result in about 6 percent less total oil production than last month’s proposal would have resulted in. 

Ahead of the decision on Sunday, the Biden administration announced some restrictions on other oil exploration in the region. 

On Monday, the Interior Department issued a statement describing its action as “substantially reducing” the size of the project from the five drill sites that had been approved under the previous administration. 

After the Willow Project was approved by the Trump administration in 2020, a judge later sent it back to the Biden administration for further consideration, deciding that a Trump-era environmental review was inadequate. 

The department also said that ConocoPhillips was giving up 68,000 acres of existing oil and gas leases, including leases in an area known as the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area that is home to wildlife like caribou. 

Nevertheless, the approval spurred ire from the left. 

“President Biden’s decision to move forward with the Willow Project abandons the millions of young people who overwhelmingly came together to demand he stop the project and protect our futures,” Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash said in a statement.

“Instead of sticking to his own goals and listening to the millions of young people who carried the party for the last three cycles, President Biden is letting the fossil fuel industry have their way,” Prakash said. 

Over the past few weeks, the project has spurred activism, particularly online, from opponents, who argue that it would be a disaster for climate change. 

And it comes after Biden also came out against local D.C. regulation that would have decreased penalties for crimes like carjackings and robberies, also alienating left-wing allies. 

However, the Willow Project has been a big priority for Alaska’s congressional delegation, who argue that it will bring economic benefits to the region. 

“Willow is finally reapproved, and we can almost literally feel Alaska’s future brightening because of it. After years of relentless advocacy, we are now on the cusp of creating thousands of new jobs, generating billions of dollars in new revenues, improving quality of life on the North Slope and across our state, and adding vital energy to TAPS to fuel the nation and the world,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a written statement.

ConocoPhillips, meanwhile, said in a statement that it was prepared to begin construction “immediately.”

“This was the right decision for Alaska and our nation,” said Ryan Lance, ConocoPhillips chairman and chief executive officer, in a written statement.

Updated at 11:02 a.m.

Tags Biden ConocoPhillips Oil drilling Varshini Prakash Willow Project

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