Biden Blocks Alaska Oil Drilling While Approving Controversial Willow Project
President Joe Biden has announced new plans to limit onshore oil and gas drilling in Alaska and ban drilling in the Arctic Ocean, even as his administration approved the massive Willow oil project, which was vehemently opposed by climate activists and many members of Alaska’s Indigenous communities.
The new plans, announced Sunday night, will prevent drilling in almost three million acres of the Beaufort Sea and prevent oil exploration there. In Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve — the location of the Willow project — drilling will be limited on more than 13 million acres.
The Willow project has been called a “carbon bomb” by climate activists and a symbol of President Biden going back on his promises to keep new oil and gas drilling in check.
According to Alaska’s biggest producer of crude oil ConocoPhillips, the Willow project is expected to produce as many as 180,000 barrels of oil a day, reported The Guardian.
“[T]he benefits of these protections can be undone just as quickly by approval of oil and gas projects on public lands, and right now, no proposal poses a bigger threat to lands, wildlife, communities, and our climate than ConocoPhillips’ Willow project,” said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program, as The Hill reported.
Biden’s decision on Willow risks alienating young voters who were galvanized by the project and took to social media to express their disapproval.
The Willow project was approved despite Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland — who had final approval — having opposed the project as a member of Congress.
The protection of the offshore area in Alaska secures key habitats for wildlife like polar bears, whales and seals, ensuring that it “will be protected in perpetuity from extractive development,” a statement from the White House said, as reported by The Associated Press.
According to the White House, the new protections expand upon those of President Barack Obama for the Beaufort Sea.
“These unparalleled protections for Alaskan landscapes and waters are the right decision at the right time, and we thank the Biden Administration for taking this significant step,” Manuel said in a statement, as The Hill reported.
The new 13 million acre conservation area lies within the 23 million acre petroleum reserve, which was set aside 100 years ago on Alaska’s North Slope, reported The Associated Press. An Obama-era rule, reinstated last year by the Biden administration, already prohibits oil and gas leasing in about half of the reserve.
The new restrictions protect important habitat for polar and grizzly bears, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds and caribou in the Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Teshekpuk Lake, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay Special Areas.
ConocoPhillips, the corporation in charge of the Willow project, has held leases within the reserve since the first lease sale in 1999, according to Willow asset manager Connor Dunn on the ConocoPhillips website.
“Oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters must end – full stop,” said Manuel, as The Guardian reported.