The Biden administration has approved a major oil drilling project in Alaska known as Willow that will produce hundreds of millions of barrels of oil over the coming decades, a move that infuriated climate activists who accused the president of undercutting his own green agenda.
The Interior Department on Monday greenlit the $8 billion ConocoPhillips project that’s been in limbo for years, delivering a significant victory to the energy sector and Alaska’s congressional delegation, who say it will help blunt high energy costs in the years to come.
But the project dealt a blow to environmentalists and local residents, who cited health and environmental concerns.
The decision came one day after the Biden administration unveiled new protections for more than 16 million acres of land and water in the region.
The environmental group Evergreen Action described the Willow decision as “heartbreaking” and an “unacceptable departure from President Biden’s promises to the American people on climate and environmental justice.”
“This decision flies in the face of concerns raised by community leaders in Nuiqsut about how this development will threaten their subsistence way of life and worsen their existing air quality crisis; and it will undermine progress towards our climate targets, all for the sake of padding ConocoPhillips’ bottom line,” said Evergreen Action Executive Director Lena Moffitt.
The Willow project, which will occur on federal lands in northern Alaska, is expected to produce nearly 629 million barrels of oil and 260 million metric tons of carbon emissions over the next three decades, according to the administration’s estimates. The project could produce up to 180,000 barrels per day once operational in the coming years. The U.S. currently produces a little more than 12 million per day.
But climate activists say the annual emissions will equate to roughly 66 coal-fired power plants.
“The Willow project is completely incompatible with the Biden administration’s climate goals and the historic climate accomplishments we’ve made. It’s dirty and dangerous,” said Climate Power Executive Director Lori Lodes. “The politics of climate have changed, and the way we allow oil and gas companies like ConocoPhillips to profit at the expense of our air, water, lands, public health and shared climate future needs to change, too.”
The decision is likely to spur legal challenges from those concerned about health and environmental risks.
However, the project will also bring economic benefits, including up to $10 billion in federal royalties and state and local taxes, in addition to federal revenues of up to $7 billion, according to the Interior Department.
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