Biden administration approves scaled-back version of $7 billion Willow oil project in Alaska despite protests.
In a major move for the U.S. energy industry, the Biden administration has given the green light to ConocoPhillips' oil and gas drilling project in Alaska. However, this decision has been made despite a last-minute push from climate change campaigners who believe the development of three drill sites in the northwest of the state contradicts President Joe Biden
's climate change agenda.
Initially, ConocoPhillips proposed five drill sites, but this has been reduced to three after concerns were raised about the greenhouse gas impacts of the project. The Bureau of Land Management recommended a "preferred alternative" that includes less surface infrastructure and two fewer drill sites, which was approved by the Interior Department.
The decision has been closely watched by Alaska officials, the oil and gas industry, and environmental groups as President Biden seeks to balance his goals of decarbonizing the U.S. economy with the need to maintain affordable fuel prices. The project has been scaled back by 40%, with two requested drill pads being denied and significant reductions in the project's freshwater use, miles of roads, pipelines, and gravel development.
Despite the approval of the Willow oil project, the Biden administration has also announced new protections for Alaskan land and water. This includes making nearly 3 million acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean "indefinitely off limits" for oil and gas leasing and protections for 13 million acres of "ecologically sensitive" Special Areas within Alaska's petroleum reserve.
Environmental groups have criticized the Biden administration, accusing it of trying to have it "both ways" on climate change. The Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said that "promoting clean energy development is meaningless if we continue to allow corporations to plunder and pollute as they wish."