The Biden administration may soon move to approve an Alaskan oil drilling project that could signal a shift in the disastrous domestic energy policies that have dealt a major blow to the U.S. fossil fuel industry, a development that has infuriated environmental activists who are aghast that the White House may deter from the global battle against a climate change apocalypse.
On Wednesday, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management advanced a scaled-down version of the Willow Project, a venture by oil giant ConocoPhillips on Alaska’s North Slope that would lock in drilling in the state for 30 years and produce 629 million barrels of oil, issuing a final environmental impact statement prior to the approval of the project.
The review predicts that the project could produce 278 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the 30-year period, an equivalent of 59,900 cars being driven for a year or the firing up of 60 new coal-fired power plants. The department also recommended that the project be shrunk to three drilling sites from the five that were proposed by ConocoPhillips.
“The Willow Project has earned very broad support from communities on the North Slope, Alaska Native leaders, labor unions, and stakeholders across the political spectrum. That’s because Willow is environmentally-just, meticulously planned, and will bring significant economic, fiscal, and security benefits with truly minimal environmental impact,” Senator Lisa Murkowski said in a statement.
.@Interior today released a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Willow Project—bringing this critical project just one step away from re-approval.
Willow is environmentally-just, meticulously planned, and will strengthen our economy and national security. pic.twitter.com/2aXsdah8kq
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) February 1, 2023
“While it has been a long and arduous road to get back to this point, we have pushed hard, as a delegation, and are now just one step away from Willow’s re-approval. I urge the administration to maintain a viable project by selecting Alternative E – without further limits or extraneous conditions – in its Record of Decision. Thousands of good union jobs—and immense benefits that will be felt across Alaska and the nation—will hang in the balance until a positive final decision has been issued,” the Alaska Republican added.
“The Willow Project has been one of my top priorities because it is deeply important to our future as a state,” said Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) in a statement. “In the short term, this project will provide thousands of good-paying union jobs and help jump-start Alaska’s economy. In the long term, the revenues from Willow will pay for essential state services like public safety and investments in our education system.”
While many have been buoyed by the potential step toward reasserting American energy independence, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has yet to make a final decision and has previously been critical of the project, a major hurdle remaining in the path of the project’s approval.
In 2020 while still a Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico, Haaland signed onto a letter that stated, “Now is not the time to be fast tracking permitting for a massive new oil development project,” before Biden’s election and subsequent cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline in his first hours as president, the opening salvo in his war on domestic oil drilling.
Climate doomsayers expressed outrage, one of them being Jeremy Lieb, an attorney for the group Earthjustice, which sued the government over support of the Willow Project.
“This would be the largest single oil drilling project proposed anywhere in the U.S., and it is drastically out of step with the Biden administration’s goals to slash climate pollution and transition to clean energy,” Lieb wailed. “Biden will be remembered for what he did to tackle the climate crisis, and as things stand today, it’s not too late for him to step up and pull the plug on this carbon bomb.”
“It’s outrageous that Biden seems ready to greenlight the massively destructive Willow project, prioritizing oil industry profits over the future of polar bears and other Arctic wildlife,” raged Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Letting ConocoPhillips move forward with this dangerous plan breaks Biden’s promise to stop oil drilling on public lands,’ she added. ‘This nonsensical project is a huge step backwards. We urge Biden to reject it in the final decision.”
Responding to a question about the potential approval of Willow, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended Biden from the criticism of climate zealots.
“The president has done more than any other president on this front,” she said. “He continues to deliver on historic climate change action while carrying out the law and meeting our energy needs.”
ConocoPhillips Alaska President Erec Isaacson said that the company is “ready to begin construction immediately” once a final decision has been reached.
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