Biden Approves Major Alaska Oil Project Despite Environmental Criticism

The Biden administration has approved the major Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope, despite facing criticism from environmentalists who argue it contradicts the president’s climate pledges, The Associated Press reports.

In Feb 2020 at a New Hampshire town hall, Biden said he opposed drilling in Alaska, stating, “And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.”

But the new project will allow ConocoPhillips to establish three drill sites initially, consisting of approximately 219 total wells.

ConocoPhillips Alaska’s Willow project, located in the federally designated National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, could generate up to 180,000 barrels of oil daily, provide up to 2,500 jobs during construction, and 300 long-term jobs.

It is expected to generate billions of dollars in royalties and tax revenues for the federal, state, and local governments.

The decision, however, has sparked outrage among climate activists who argue that it puts Biden’s climate legacy at risk and breaks his campaign promise to stop new oil drilling on public lands.

The administration’s decision is not likely to be the last word, with litigation expected from environmental groups.

In an effort to balance the decision, the White House has announced that Biden will prevent or limit oil drilling in 16 million acres in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean. The plan would bar drilling in nearly three million acres of the Beaufort Sea, closing it off from oil exploration, and limit drilling in over 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve.

The withdrawal of the offshore area ensures that crucial habitats for wildlife such as whales, seals, polar bears, and other species “will be protected in perpetuity from extractive development,” the White House stated.

Alaska’s Republican U.S. senators have warned that any further limits could render the Willow project uneconomic and potentially kill it.

The project has broad political support in Alaska, with Alaska Native state lawmakers recently meeting with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to urge support for Willow.

According to Nagruk Harcharek, the president of the group Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, there is “majority consensus” in the North Slope region supporting the project.

Separately, the administration has moved to protect over 13 million acres within the petroleum reserve, a 23-million-acre land on Alaska’s North Slope that was set aside a century ago for future oil production.