Willow Project: Biden administration approves Alaska oil project


Biden administration approved massive Willow Oil Drilling Project in Alaskaangry climate advocates and set the stage for litigation.

The Willow Project is a multi-year oil drilling venture in the National Petroleum Reserve that is owned by the federal government. The area in which the project is planned contains up to 600 million barrels of oil, although it will take years for this oil to hit the market as the project has yet to be implemented.

The administration’s own estimate is that the project will produce enough oil to emit 9.2 million metric tons of warming carbon pollution per year, the equivalent of adding 2 million gas-powered cars to the roads.

OK is a victory for a bipartisan delegation from the Alaska Congress and a coalition of Alaskan Native tribes and groups who hailed the drilling venture as a much-needed new source of income and jobs for the outlying region.

“We finally did it, Willow was finally approved again, and because of this, we almost literally feel how the future of Alaska is getting brighter,” the Republican senator said. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in a statement, adding that Alaska is “now on the cusp of creating thousands of new jobs, generating billions of dollars of new revenue” and “improving the quality of life on the North Slope and throughout our state.”

But it’s a major blow to climate groups and Alaska Natives, who opposed Willow and argued that the project would harm the president’s ambitious plans. climate goals and pose a risk to health and the environment.

The project has sparked an uprising of online activism against it, including over a million letters sent to the White House protesting the project, and Petition on Change.org with millions of signatures.

Environmentalists are expected to challenge the project in court. Environmental law group Earthjustice is preparing a case against the project and intends to argue that the Biden administration’s authority to protect resources on Alaska’s public lands includes taking action to reduce the planet-warming carbon pollution Project Willow will eventually add to.

Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen criticized the administration’s decision on Monday.

“We are too late with the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden administration is committed to promoting,” Dillen said. “We know that President Biden understands the existential climate threat, but he approves of a project that frustrates his own climate goals.”

However, federal lawmakers from Alaska hailed the decision, calling it a state victory.

“After years of consistent and strong support for this project from people across the state and from all walks of life, the Willow project is finally moving forward,” said the Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, first Alaska Native in Congress. “I would like to thank the president and his administration for listening to the voices of Alaskans when it mattered most.”

An exploration drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project on the North Slope of Alaska.

Alaska Native groups who wanted the project to generate the jobs and income it would bring to the region also welcomed the decision.

Nagrook Harcharek, president of the Arctic Inupiat Voice advocacy group, said in a statement Monday that his group is “thankful” to President Joe Biden and his senior advisers for endorsing the project and “listening to the will of Alaska Native communities in support of the Willow Project.”

“Project Willow is a new opportunity to secure a sustainable future for our communities, creating economic stability for our generations and advancing our self-determination,” Harczarek said.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has considered reduction in the number of approved drilling sites to two and increased conservation measures to try to allay climate and environmental groups’ concerns about the project. Reducing the number of drilling sites to two would allow the company to drill about 70% of the oil they were originally looking for.

But ConocoPhillips and a bipartisan Congressional delegation from Alaska aggressively lobbied the Biden White House and the Interior Department for months to approve three drilling sites, saying the project would not be economically viable with two.

Ultimately, the venture was approved by three drilling sites. The administration believed it was legally constrained and had little ability to cancel or significantly scale back the project, which was originally approved by the Trump administration. The administration has determined that, by law, the courts would not allow them to reject the project outright, two government sources familiar with the approval told CNN.

The final scope of the project will cover 68,000 acres less than ConocoPhillips originally planned, the sources said.

“It was the right decision for Alaska and our country,” said Ryan Lance, Chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips. “Willow fits into the Biden administration’s environmental and social justice priorities by promoting energy transfer and improving our energy security, while creating good union jobs and benefiting Alaska Native communities.”

Biden on Monday also announced sweeping new defenses for federal lands and waters in Alaska in tandem with Willow.

The White House on Monday banned the entire US Arctic Ocean from future oil and gas leases. Later, the administration will also announce new drilling protection rules for more than 13 million acres in the federal national oil reserve in Alaska.

Overall, the administration will take action to protect up to 16 million acres from future fossil fuel leases.

Protection will extend to Teshekpuk Lake, the Utukok Rise, the Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay, areas that are important habitats for grizzly bears, polar bears, reindeer and migratory birds.

On Sunday, an administration official said the administration views the new moves as a “firewall” against both future fossil fuel leases and expansion of existing projects on the North Slope.

Appreciating the decision to approve the Willow project, Senator. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, criticized the upcoming defensive measures.

“The fact that this Willow [approval] With the announcement of future legally dubious restrictions on resource development on Alaskan lands and waters, this is infuriating and demonstrates that the Biden administration’s unprecedented isolation of our state will continue,” Sullivan said in a statement.

Sullivan told reporters Monday that the Biden administration had assured him that the new rules would not affect existing lease rights in the National Oil Reserve in Alaska.

Demonstrators gather outside the White House on March 3 to protest the Willow Project in Alaska.

Environmental groups have criticized the Biden administration for endorsing Willow and have said that increased protection for other Arctic regions will not undo the harm the project will cause.

Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government relations for the League of Conservation Voters, said the league was “extremely disappointed” with the decision, calling the project “dangerous” and “dirty.”

“This is in direct conflict with the Biden-Harris administration’s goals of halving climate pollution by 2030, and it’s all the more important now that they redouble executive efforts that maximize progress on climate and conservation,” Sittenfeld said in a statement. “The new protections announced for the threatened Arctic are important, but they don’t offset Willow’s endorsement.”

Lena Moffitt, executive director of Evergreen Action, which advocates a strong climate change policy, called the approval “an unacceptable departure from President Biden’s climate and environmental justice promises to the American people.”

The Alaska Wildlife League, which works to protect Alaska’s natural areas from industry and fossil fuel drilling, said it was “deeply disappointed” by the approval.

“This is the wrong decision for our climate future, for protecting biodiversity, and for honoring the frontline communities that have raised their voice against this project,” said Kristen Miller, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife League.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, called the approval from Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland “disappointing.”

“The Western Arctic is one of the last great wild landscapes on the planet,” Heinrich said in a statement. “Industrial development in this pristine landscape will not age well.”

This story has been updated with additional information.