Climate Activists Alarmed as Biden Admin Takes Major Step Forward in Proposed Alaska Oil Drilling Project

A herd of caribou graze by the Trans-Alaska Pipeline at the North Slope on Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
A herd of caribou graze by the Trans-Alaska Pipeline at the North Slope on Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Joel W. Rogers / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images
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The Biden administration has taken a major step on a proposed oil drilling project in Alaska’s North Slope by releasing a draft of an environmental impact statement (EIS), much to the dismay of climate advocates, CNN reported.

The ConocoPhillips project, known as Willow, would release tons of carbon dioxide emissions and spell disaster for the administration’s climate goals, which include slashing carbon emissions in the U.S. by half by 2030.

The Trump administration had approved the Willow project, but a judge temporarily blocked it, saying the environmental analysis hadn’t sufficiently considered the possible harm to wildlife or additional climate change impact.

The EIS includes an array of possible plans for the project, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) said, one of which is “no action” — meaning no drilling — and doesn’t represent a final decision, reported The New York Times. The DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will take public comments on the proposed drilling for 45 days, with a final decision expected later this year.

“We are disappointed to see BLM moving forward with considering the Willow plan when it is so clearly inconsistent with the goals this administration has set to transition away from fossil fuels and avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” said Earthjustice attorney Jeremy Lieb, as The Washington Post reported. “This single project, which will release a staggering amount of climate pollution, threatens to send us dangerously off track by undercutting urgently needed measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.”

The EIS said the 30-year Willow project would generate 629 barrels of oil and release from 278 million to 284 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, reported CNN.

In a high-emissions scenario, temperatures in parts of Alaska — including northern areas — are predicted to increase by ten to 16 degrees Fahrenheit by the latter part of the 21st century, the new review of the project said, as The Washington Post reported.

The EIS draft said pipelines, gravel roads, a minimum of one airstrip, a processing facility and gravel mine would be included in the proposed drilling project, reported CNN. Five drilling sites were being proposed on federal land by ConocoPhillips.

Senior Vice President for Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress Christy Goldfuss said the Willow project was “a climate disaster in waiting,” CNN reported.

Goldfuss went on to say that the project wouldn’t alleviate the current high gas prices.

Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, supported the move by the Biden administration, while environmental groups said it would be disastrous for U.S. climate goals and speed up climate change. The groups went on to say the drilling project would be detrimental to Alaska’s wildlife, including caribou, polar bears and migratory birds.

“We cannot allow ConocoPhillips to destroy this pristine region — which is already warming three times faster than the rest of the world due to climate change,” said Alex Taurel, conservation program director at the League of Conservation Voters, as reported by CNN.

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