The so-called Willow Project, a plan to drill on Alaska’s North Slope inside the federally-owned National Petroleum Reserve, could eventually yield as many as 600 million barrels of oil. Initially approved under the Trump administration, it has the support of both Republicans and Democrats in Alaska, and even Native American tribes who believe it will generate much-needed jobs and revenue.
“We finally did it, Willow is finally reapproved, and we can almost literally feel Alaska’s future brightening because of it,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement.
Native American Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola also praised the Biden administration for greenlighting the project.
“After years of consistent, determined advocacy for this project, from people all across the state and from every walk of life, the Willow Project is finally moving forward,” Peltola said. “I would like to thank the President and his administration for listening to the voices of Alaskans when it mattered most.”
The White House has decided to authorize ConocoPhillips' mammoth Willow oil project in northwest Alaska, rejecting arguments from environmental activists. Scoop by @jendlouhyhc & @JenniferJJacobs https://t.co/wzsDBWY2di
— Ari Natter (@AriNatter) March 10, 2023
But global warming activists and other Native American tribes say the project will spoil the 23 million acre reserve while generating carbon they believe is heating the planet. More than one million people have written letters to the White House complaining about the approval and a Change.org petition has garnered millions of signatures.
Critics of the project, including the environmental activist group Earthjustice, also intend to challenge the approval in court.
“We are too late in the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden Administration committed to advancing,” Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen said. “We know President Biden understands the existential threat of climate, but he is approving a project that derails his own climate goals.”
Former Vice President Al Gore called Biden’s decision “recklessly irresponsible.”
The Alaska Wilderness League, which is opposed to fossil fuels, also blasted the decision.
“This is the wrong decision for our climate future, for protecting biodiversity, and for honoring the frontline communities who have raised their voices against this project,” Executive Director Kristen Miller said in a statement.
The project, which includes pipelines, several miles of road, and multiple bridges, was proposed by oil giant ConocoPhillips with bipartisan backing from Alaska’s Congressional delegation. The Biden administration Interior Department initially sought to scale back the project’s scope from five drilling pads to just two. But after intense lobbying, the White House agreed to allow three drilling pads. Still the project as approved covers 68,000 fewer acres than originally proposed, which the Interior Department said would ensure the protection of polar bears and yellow-billed loons.
“This was the right decision for Alaska and our nation,” said ConocoPhillips Chairman and CEO Ryan Lance. “Willow fits within the Biden Administration’s priorities on environmental and social justice, facilitating the energy transition and enhancing our energy security, all while creating good union jobs and providing benefits to Alaska Native communities.”
On Monday, the White House rolled out new protections for land and waters in and around Alaska, including barring future oil and gas wells in the U.S. Arctic Ocean and new rules protecting over 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve.