Chris Lange, FISM News
The Biden administration on Monday approved the Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope in a move that will undoubtedly draw harsh condemnation from climate activists who have pressured the administration to reject it. The key Democratic voting bloc had framed President Biden’s potential approval of the $8 billion as a betrayal of his 2020 campaign promises to bar new drilling projects.
Late on Sunday, the administration moved to limit drilling on more than 13 million acres in the North Slope – a 23-million-acre swath of land comprising the petroleum reserve – and also barred oil exploration in nearly 3 million acres of the Beaufort Sea.
The Biden administration’s approval of the Willow project will permit drilling on three of the four sites proposed by project developer ConocoPhillips.
The Interior Department’s formal approval of the Willow project followed weeks of pressure on the administration both for and against the project. The Department ultimately concluded that it could not legally deny permits to ConocoPhillips since the developer already owns leases on the land.
“Today’s Record of Decision on the Willow Project is critically important for Alaska’s economy, good-paying jobs for our families, and the future prosperity of our state,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who pushed for the project, said of its approval in a statement posted to his Twitter account.
The project is expected to generate as much as 180,000 barrels of oil per day and will create thousands of much-needed jobs in the snow- and ice-covered North Slope, according to a statement from ConocoPhillips. The company also noted that the Willow project would generate $8.7 billion in tax revenues and royalties for the state and federal government.
A bipartisan congressional delegation from Alaska had recently met with officials at the White House to lobby for the project that climate activists have referred to as a “carbon bomb.”
Project supporter Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), whose record of siding with Democrats on a number of issues nearly cost her a fourth term in 2022, suggested that it was time for the Biden administration to reciprocate in kind.
“Cooperation goes both ways,″ she told reporters ahead of the administration’s decision.
Murkowski provided key support to confirm Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who fought the Willow project as a member of Congress and, in her new position, held the power to approve or reject it.
Opponents of the project have argued that it will release about 9 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year. Former Vice President and self-appointed climate expert Al Gore had argued that the “reckless” Willow project would be “a recipe for climate chaos,” the Guardian reported.
Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s lands protection program, said that the protections announced by the White House on Sunday would do little to mitigate the damage posed by Willow.
“No proposal poses a bigger threat to lands, wildlife, communities, and our climate than ConocoPhillips’ Willow project, ″ Manuel said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. “Oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters must end — full stop. The eyes of the world are watching to see whether this administration will live up to its climate promises. ″
Former President Donald Trump in 2019 reversed a 2015 decision by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama which barred oil exploration in the coastal areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Obama would eventually halt exploration on roughly 98% of the Arctic outer continental shelf. A federal judge ruled that Trump had exceeded his authority with the 2019 reversal and reinstated the Obama policy.