AK - Biden Approves ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project to Drill Oil in the Alaskan Arctic

Despite the administration’s announcement of new protections for other North Slope and coastal areas of the state, environmentalists roundly criticized Monday’s decision.

The Biden administration gave final approval Monday to a major Arctic oil project, marking one of its most significant and controversial decisions on climate change and energy. The drilling project had become an important symbol for both environmentalists and the oil industry over the last year as each camp fought to bend the decision in its favor.

The administration paired the approval with an announcement that it would seek to expand or strengthen protections across 16 million acres in the Alaskan Arctic, both onshore and in coastal waters, restricting or prohibiting oil and gas drilling in those areas.

The Willow Project was proposed five years ago by ConocoPhillips and would be the largest oil development to proceed under the Biden administration. Over 30 years of production, it would pump about 576 million barrels of oil from a federally-managed reserve on Alaska’s North Slope. The site lies about 30 miles west of a village of 500 residents, most of whom are Alaska Natives, and partially within a protected area that is home to millions of migratory birds and a caribou herd that is a subsistence food source for the village.

While some environmental groups welcomed the new conservation measures announced by the administration, they roundly condemned Willow’s approval.

The new protections are “not nearly sufficient to blunt the impact of any version of the Willow oil and gas project,” said Karlin Itchoak, Alaska senior regional director for The Wilderness Society. “We cannot allow ConocoPhillips to accelerate the climate crisis, and in my mind that’s exactly what this does.”

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