Biden approves massive oil project in Alaska, moves to prevent future drilling in Arctic Ocean
WASHINGTON – The Biden administration Monday approved the controversial Willow oil projectpaving the way for one of the largest new oil and gas developments in Alaska in 20 years despite fierce opposition from environmental activists.
The move came as Biden also signaled sweeping future action to prevent offshore drilling on 2.8 million acres in the Arctic Ocean in an appeal to critics who said the president was betraying his commitment to fighting climate change.
The $8 billion Willow project, planned by Houston-based oil company ConocoPhillips, marks a shift in the Biden administration handling major fossil fuel projects after previously approving few without congressional or court intervention.
What is approved?
Where is this? The Willow project targets land within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, an approximately 23 million acre area in the Beaufort Sea, north of the Arctic Circle and about 200 miles west of the existing oil fields at Prudhoe Bay.
Scaled down: The Ministry of the Interior approved three out of five drilling sites proposed by ConocoPhillips. Denying the other two reduced the original size of the 200-well project by about 40% and eliminated 11 miles of roads, 20 miles of pipelines and 133 acres of gravel that would have been required.
Company loses 68,000 acres: The company agreed to relinquish 68,000 acres of existing leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, reducing its footprint in the reserve by one-third.
Environment ‘buffer’: These steps will create “a buffer” between oil development activities and reindeer migration routes in the area, Interior Ministry officials said.
What is Biden doing to protect the Arctic?
13 million acres blocked: Anticipating a backlash from climate activists, the Biden administration on Sunday proposed rules to block future oil and gas leases within more than 13 million acres of the 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Habitat protection: The rule would block oil and gas leasing in Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay, which are known for globally significant habitats including grizzly and polar bears, caribou and migratory birds, according to the Interior Department.
Oil ban in the Arctic Ocean: Biden’s action to indefinitely prevent future offshore drilling on 2.8 million acres in the Arctic Ocean will complete the protection of the entire Beaufort Sea that builds on efforts under the Obama administration.
Why Biden didn’t block the project, according to the White House
The Biden administration was constrained by legal constraints in reviewing the Willow project’s application, according to a White House official, who said the company had valid rights to the land due to decades-old leases.
The administration was confident the courts would have blocked an outright rejection of the Willow project and could impose fines on the government, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the White House’s deliberations.
#StopWillow climate activists blast Biden
The approval of the Willow project was met with swift criticism from environmental activists, who had rallied under a #StopWillow hashtag on social media to try to stop the project.
Kristen Monsell, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, called Biden’s action “appalling” and vowed to continue fighting to prevent Willow from breaking ground.
“People and wildlife will suffer, and extracting and burning more fossil fuels will warm the climate even faster,” Monsell said. “Biden has no excuse for allowing this project to go forward in any form.”
Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, accused the Biden administration of “betraying its core commitment” to end runaway climate change.
“ConocoPhillips’ Willow project shocks the conscience,” Dillen said. “It will open up the entire western Arctic to drilling over many decades, destroying a fragile ecosystem and the people who depend on it.”
Mixed reviews from the fossil fuel industry
The fossil fuel industry applauded Biden for signing Willow, but criticized Arctic protection.
Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president for policy at the American Petroleum Institute, said the new rules on offshore drilling send “mixed signals” about energy policy.
“By imposing these restrictions, the Department of the Interior appears to be treating their statutory obligations as a bargaining chip,” Macchiarola said. He urged the Biden administration to instead focus on “real solutions” to provide energy and cut emissions.
Featured: Associated Press
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Biden approves Willow project, rules out future Arctic drilling