Biden To Approve Controversial Willow Oil Project in Alaska

The controversial Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope has been approved by the Biden administration, despite drawing condemnation from environmentalists who argue that it goes against the President’s climate promises. The decision allows for three initial drill sites, with a total of 219 wells, while a fourth site has been rejected.

A Controversial Decision

Houston-based ConocoPhillips will give up rights to around 68,000 acres of existing leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The announcement comes a day after the administration said it would restrict drilling in other areas of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean in a significant conservation move. The three-site option has been deemed workable by the developer.

Christy Goldfuss, the policy chief at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a former official in the Obama administration, has voiced her disappointment at Biden's decision to approve the Willow project. The NRDC has estimated that the project would generate planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to over a million homes. Goldfuss warned that the decision would be harmful to the environment, climate, and Native Alaska communities who oppose the project and feel that their voices were not heard.

In anticipation of criticism from environmental groups, the White House has revealed a plan to prevent or restrict oil drilling in 16 million acres of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean. The plan would prevent drilling in almost three million acres of the Beaufort Sea, effectively shutting off oil exploration in that area, and restrict drilling in over 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve.

The withdrawal of the offshore area will safeguard critical habitats for wildlife, including polar bears, whales, and seals, from extractive development.

Angering The Environmentalists

Environmentalists have expressed outrage at the Biden administration's apparent willingness to approve the Willow oil project, warning that it undermines the President's climate legacy and would breach his commitment to halt new oil drilling on public lands. They have launched a social media campaign, #StopWillow, to remind Biden of his promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy.

However, the decision enjoys broad political support in Alaska, and lawmakers from the state have met with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to urge support for the project, which could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil daily, creating thousands of jobs and generating billions of dollars in tax revenue. ConocoPhillips, the developer, says the three-site option is workable. Environmental groups are expected to mount legal challenges.

Alaska's congressional delegation, comprising members from both parties, lobbied President Biden and his advisors in March in favor of the Willow project, while environmental groups mobilized opposition and urged opponents to pressure the administration. The proposed development has sparked concern among some local communities.

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, the Mayor of Nuiqsut, whose population numbers around 525, has spoken out against the project, citing worries about impacts on caribou and local subsistence lifestyles. The Naqsragmiut Tribal Council, from another North Slope community, has also raised concerns.

However, according to Nagruk Harcharek, the president of the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat group, which represents leaders from across the region, there is “majority consensus” in the North Slope in favor of the project.

Complete Protections

On Sunday, the White House announced conservation measures that will provide complete protections for the Beaufort Sea Planning Area, expanding on President Obama's 2016 actions relating to the Chukchi Sea Planning Area and the majority of the Beaufort Sea.

The conservation plan announced by the White House includes protection for areas known for their globally significant habitat for grizzly and polar bears, caribou, and migratory birds, including the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay Special Areas.

Abigail Dillen, the president of Earthjustice, has welcomed the plan but called for the protections to be extended to the Willow site if the administration believes it has the authority to limit oil development in the petroleum reserve. In an interview on Sunday, she emphasized that the authorities have the power to block the project.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.