A study released by the Biden administration recommends giving the go-ahead to an $8 billion oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope. Environmentalists have expressed fervent opposition to the ConocoPhillips Alaska Willow project, saying it goes against the president’s commitments to renewable energy and the reduction of carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
The U.S. Department of the Interior released an environmental assessment recommending a pared-down version of the original project that would produce around 600 barrels of oil over three decades, at a maximum of 180,000 barrels of oil per day, reported The Guardian. The oil and gas development would be one of the biggest on U.S. territory.More From EcoWatc
“Willow is a carbon bomb that cannot be allowed to explode in the Arctic,” said The Wilderness Society’s Senior Regional Director of the Arctic Region Karlin Nageak Itchoak, as The Guardian reported. “Our Native villages are eroding into the sea, thawing permafrost is making infrastructure insecure, and food sources are disappearing. And this project would just exacerbate and speed up the climate crisis in the Arctic.”
In the report, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it prefers to begin drilling on up to three sites of the five proposed by the oil company, reported The Associated Press.
In a separate statement, the Department of the Interior expressed “substantial concerns, including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence.”
The BLM said the identification of the preferred alternative of initially drilling at up to three of the proposed sites didn’t indicate a final decision.
Even with a reduced amount of drilling sites, environmental activists said ConocoPhillips would still be able to extract most of the area’s oil, which would produce carbon dioxide emissions about equal to the yearly emissions of 66 new coal-fired power plants over the lifetime of the project, reported The New York Times.
While campaigning for the presidency, President Joe Biden promised to end new federal oil and gas development leases. He has also pledged to reduce emissions in the U.S. to a minimum of 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
“No other oil and gas project has greater potential to undermine the Biden administration’s climate goals,” said Itchoak, as The New York Times reported. “If this project were to move forward, it would result in the production and burning of at least 30 years of oil at a time when the world needs climate solutions and a transition to clean energy.”
The City of Nuiqsut — located about 36 miles from the proposed site of the Willow project — and Native Village of Nuiqsut leaders have expressed that they don’t think the BLM is listening to their concerns.
The BLM’s “engagement with us is consistently focused on how to allow projects to go forward; how to permit the continuous expansion and concentration of oil and gas activity on our traditional lands,” Native Village of Nuiqsut President Eunice Brower and City of Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak said in a letter, as reported by The Associated Press.
Ahtuangaruak recently told policymakers in Washington that the Willow project would invade the habitat of several species of wildlife, including whales, polar bears, migratory birds and more than 80,000 caribou, The New York Times reported.
Ahtuangaruak said it would also leave the community hemmed in by oil and gas projects.
“We have enough oil and gas development around us and enough areas that are already leased in this area that they could do work for a long time,” Ahtuangaruak said, as reported by The New York Times. “There’s no reason they have to go into this area. It’s about wanting to.”
According to ConocoPhillips, the project would create jobs and generate from $8 to $17 billion in federal, state and local revenue, The Associated Press reported.
Nonprofit environmental organization Earthjustice said the Willow project would disrupt yearly migration patterns, erode wildlife habitat and bring hundreds of miles of pipeline and miles of roads to the ecologically rich region.
Attorney with Earthjustice Jeremy Lieb said the project is “drastically out of step with the Biden administration’s goals to slash climate pollution and transition to clean energy,” but that “it’s not too late for him to step up and pull the plug on this carbon bomb,” reported The Associated Press.
Final approval for the controversial project rests with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a Democrat who fought it while in Congress. A final determination isn’t expected until at least early March, when Haaland could approve or reject the project, or choose a compromise that allows a portion of the proposed drilling while blocking additional development.
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