The Biden administration has announced that it will approve the $8-billion ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil project in Alaska.
- The ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil project is on Alaska’s North Slope and represents one of the only remaining undeveloped wilderness areas in the U.S.
- The project is expected to produce around 576 million barrels of oil over 30 years, Axios reports.
- Though the administration is granting ConocoPhillips permission to proceed, it has not approved the entire project.
- ConocoPhillips initially requested five well pads. President Joe Biden has approved three.
- By reducing the size of the project, the administration has somewhat reduced the overall emission footprint and effect on the region.
- The approval also requires ConocoPhillips to forfeit rights to around 68,000 acres in the surrounding area.
- The Department of Interior’s environmental analysis found that the total annual emissions from ConocoPhillips’ project will equal around 1.2 coal-fired power plants annually. The yearly emissions would make up about 1% of all U.S. emissions in 2019, Axios reports.
Why it’s news
It is becoming increasingly clear that the nation and the world will have a continued reliance on fossil fuels, as we transition to alternative energies, such as wind, solar, and hydrogen. The transition is happening, but many assert that we need to keep up the oil production to power the economy as we go through the transition.
What’s more, the Biden administration’s approval comes as other Biden representatives have started taking a friendlier approach to oil companies.
While speaking at the global energy conference CERAWeek in Houston, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm encouraged “creative visionaries” in the industry to continue transforming the energy sector by applying their knowledge of fracking and gas transportation to offshore wind farms, hydrogen, and geothermal projects.
Approving the project seems counterintuitive to the Biden administration’s previous climate commitments. The Alaskan slope where the project will be built is one of the most rapidly warming locations on the globe, Axios reports.
Though President Biden has approved the Willow project, he recently announced regulations blocking or limiting any drilling projects in other areas of Alaska.
What the opposition says
The Willow project has been controversial with Alaskan residents, climate activists, and lawmakers. Climate group Evergreen Action’s Lena Moffitt spoke out against President Biden’s decision to approve the project.
“Approving the Willow Project is an unacceptable departure from President Biden’s promises to the American people on climate and environmental justice. After all that this administration has done to advance climate action and environmental justice, it is heartbreaking to see a decision that we know will poison Arctic communities and lock in decades of climate pollution we simply cannot afford,” she said.
Some native Alaskan communities have also been vocal in their opposition to the Willow project.
“The Biden administration’s approval makes it clear that its call for climate action and the protection of biodiversity is talk, not action. . .We will continue to call for a stop to Willow because the lives of local people and future generations depend on it,” Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic group representative Sonia Ahkivgak says.
What the support says
While the project has faced strong opposition from environmentalists and Alaskan residents, Willow also has support from within the state.
In an op-ed published by CNN, Alaskan Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and U.S. Representative Mary Peltola (D-AK) announced their support for the project.
“We all recognize the need for cleaner energy, but there is a major gap between our capability to generate it and our daily needs … We need affordable energy today, and we will need it well into the future. And both are reasons why Willow matters,” the lawmakers write.
The Alaskan representatives further defended the project, arguing that it is better than alternative oil projects and will bring needed jobs to the Alaskan community.
“This should be an easy decision. The administration has made combating climate change a priority, while also acknowledging that the transition to cleaner energy will take time. In the meantime, we need oil, and compared to the other countries we can source it from, we believe Willow is by far the most environmentally responsible choice.”
The Biden administration has further support within his own party. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), released a statement supporting the approval of the project.
“I welcome today’s Record of Decision (ROD) that finally reapproves the ConocoPhillips Willow Project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. This is a long-awaited and critical step towards shoring up American energy security,” Manchin says.