The Biden administration is approving a scaled-back version of ConocoPhillips’ $7 billion oil and gas drilling Willow project in Alaska, the US Department of Interior said yesterday, drawing cheers from Alaskan officials and the oil industry but criticism from environmental advocates.
The decision follows an aggressive eleventh-hour campaign from opponents who had argued the development of the three drill sites in northwestern Alaska conflicts with President Joe Biden’s highly publicized efforts to fight climate change and rapidly shift to cleaner sources of energy.
Alaska’s elected officials say the project will create hundreds of jobs and bring billions of dollars in revenue to state and federal coffers. The state relies heavily on revenue from oil production, but output has declined dramatically from its peak in the 1980s.
“I feel the people of Alaska have been heard,” US representative Mary Peltola, a Democrat from Alaska, said on a call with reporters. “The state of Alaska cannot carry the burden of solving our global warming issues alone.”
The fate of the project has been closely watched by Alaska officials, the oil and gas industry and green groups as Biden seeks to balance his goals of decarbonising the US economy with calls to increase domestic fuel supplies to keep prices low.
The Interior Department approved the project with three drill pads after saying last month it was concerned about the greenhouse gas impacts of Willow. ConocoPhillips had sought to build up to five drill sites and project infrastructure including dozens of miles of roads and pipelines and seven bridges.
The agency said the smaller scope will reduce the impact on habitats for species like polar bears and yellow-billed loons.