The US government has approved an Alaskan drilling venture despite pressure from environmentalists to kill the project
Three days after denying that a decision had been made, President Joe Biden’s administration has approved an $8 billion oil development in the Alaskan Arctic, clearing the way for a drilling project decried by climate activists as an “environmental injustice.”
The ruling was announced on Monday by the US Department of the Interior (DOI), approving a project that developer ConocoPhillips estimates will produce 180,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak. The company has called its Willow development “the next great Alaska hub,” suggesting that it could lead to the tapping of other oil deposits in the area as additional wells could tie into the initial project’s processing and pipeline infrastructure.
Willow is located in the pristine National Petroleum Reserve, a 23-million-acre tract on Alaska’s North Slope that has been billed as the nation’s largest stretch of undisturbed public land. With Alaskan oil production sliding in recent years to its lowest levels in more than four decades, the ConocoPhillips project may be needed to prevent the stranding of all North Slope output because the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline reportedly can’t continue to operate during winter months without flows of at least 300,000 barrels a day.
US Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, was among the critics who blasted Biden’s “disastrous decision,” claiming it “sends the wrong message to our international partners.” The politician argued that the move “not only leaves an oil stain on the administration’s climate accomplishments and the president’s commitment not to permit new oil and gas drilling on federal land, but slows our progress in the fight for a more livable future and puts into harm’s way the neighboring native village of Nuiqsut and the Arctic landscape.”
Biden pledged during his 2020 presidential campaign to end new oil and natural gas drilling on federal lands and speed the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels. However, criticism over his anti-oil policies has escalated over the past year, especially after US gasoline prices rose to an all-time high last June.
Perhaps bracing for the pushback that it anticipated over the Willow project, the White House announced on Sunday that Biden would limit or block drilling in the Arctic Ocean and 16 million acres of Alaska. The DOI’s approval for Willow will allow for as many as 199 total wells and three drilling sites.