Willow project: Biden approves large-scale oil drilling plan in Alaska

Washington – The Biden administration said Monday that it approves of the controversial major Willow oil project on Alaska’s petroleum-rich North Slope, one of President Biden’s most sweeping climate choices likely to be condemned by environmentalists who say it goes against the Democratic president’s commitments.

The announcement comes a day after the government, in a major conservation move, said it would happen giving birth or restricting drilling in some other parts of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean.

Mr Biden’s Willow Plan would initially allow for three drilling sites, which developer ConocoPhillips said would include a total of about 219 wells. A fourth drilling site proposed for the project would be rejected. The company has said it considers the three-site option workable.

Houston-based ConocoPhillips will relinquish rights to approximately 68,000 acres of existing leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The Interior Ministry highlighted the narrowing of the project’s scope, saying the actions announced Monday “significantly scale back the Willow project within the constraints of valid existing rights under decades-old leases issued by previous administrations.”

This 2019 aerial image provided by ConocoPhillips shows an exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project on Alaska's North Slope.
This 2019 aerial image provided by ConocoPhillips shows an exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope.

ConocoPhillips via AP

Climate activists are outraged that Mr Biden appeared willing to give the green light to the project, which they say jeopardized his climate legacy. Allowing oil company ConocoPhillips to move forward with the drilling plan would also break Biden’s campaign promise to halt new oil drilling on public lands, they say.

The administration’s decision probably won’t be the last word, and lawsuits are expected from environmental groups.

ConocoPhillips’ Willow project in Alaska could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day, create up to 2,500 jobs during construction and 300 long-term jobs, and generate billions of dollars in royalties and tax revenue for federal, state and local governments. say.

Located in the federally designated National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the project enjoys broad political support in the state. Alaska Native lawmakers recently met with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to push for support for Willow.

But environmentalists have promoted a #StopWillow campaign on social media, to remind Mr. Biden of his commitments to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy.

Christy Goldfuss, a former Obama White House official and now policy chief at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said she was “deeply disappointed” with Mr Biden’s decision to approve Willow, which the NRDC estimates that it would cause global warming. greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 1 million households.

“This decision is bad for the climate, bad for the environment and bad for Alaska Native communities who oppose it and feel their voices are not being heard,” said Goldfuss.

Students and community members demand that President Biden stop the Willow Project outside the White House on December 2, 2022.
Students and community members demand that President Biden stop the Willow Project outside the White House on December 2, 2022.

Paul Morigi/Getty Images for This is Zero Hour

Anticipating that response from environmental groups, the White House announced on Sunday that Biden will prevent or limit oil drilling in 16 million acres in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean. The plan would ban drilling in nearly 3 million acres of the Beaufort Sea — shutting down oil exploration — and limit drilling in more than 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve.

The offshore retreat ensures that an important habitat for whales, seals, polar bears and other wildlife is “forever protected from extractive development,” the White House said in a statement.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as part of an environmental review, put forward a development option for Willow in February, which initially called for three drilling sites, which it said would include a total of about 219 wells. ConocoPhillips Alaska said it considered that option workable.

Alaska’s Republican U.S. senators warned that any further restrictions could destroy the project, making it unprofitable.

Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation met with Mr. Biden and his advisers in early March to make their case for the project, while environmental groups rallied opposition and urged opponents of the project to put pressure on the administration.

Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak of the city of Nuiqsut, whose community of about 525 people is closest to the proposed development, has been outspoken in her opposition, concerned about the impact on caribou and the livelihoods of its residents. The Naqsragmiut Tribal Council, in another North Slope community, also expressed concern about the project.

A map of the lands approved for use in the WIllow Project in Alaska.
A map of the lands approved for use in the WIllow Project in Alaska.

Associated Press

But there is “majority consensus” in the North Slope region that supports the project, said Nagruk Harcharek, president of the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat group, whose members include leaders from much of that region.

The conservation actions Sunday announced full protection for the entire Beaufort Sea Planning Area, building on President Barack Obama’s 2016 action on the Chukchi Sea Planning Area and most of the Beaufort Sea, the White House said.

Separately, the government has taken steps to protect more than 13 million acres within the Petroleum Reserve, a 23 million-acre tract of land on Alaska’s North Slope that was set aside a century ago for future oil production.

The Willow Project is located on the reserve and ConocoPhillips has long leases on the site. About half of the reserve is off limits to oil and gas leasing under an Obama-era rule reinstated by the Biden administration last year.

Areas to be protected include Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Highlands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay Special Areas, collectively known for providing globally important grizzly and polar bear habitat, caribou and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.

Abigail Dillen, chair of the environmental group Earthjustice, welcomed the new conservation plan but said if the Biden administration believes it has the authority to restrict oil development in the petroleum reserve, officials should extend those protections to the Willow site.

“They have the power to block Willow,” she said in an interview on Sunday.

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