The Biden administration approved an Alaska oil project Monday, angering environmentalists and opening up a large area of the state to drilling for as much as 180,000 barrels of oil a day.
Known as the Willow Project, the drilling project is located inside the 23 million acre National Petroleum Reserve, owned by the federal government, on Alaska’s North Slope. ConocoPhillips, which will oversee the project, said it would decrease American dependence on foreign energy supplies and bring in between $8 billion to $17 billion in revenue for the federal government.
Alaska’s congressional delegation applauded the project’s approval. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, said, “the people of Alaska were heard,” and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called it “the right decision.”
We did it, Alaska!— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) March 13, 2023
I’m so relieved that an economically viable Willow Project is being reapproved. What a huge and needed victory for all Alaska.
This project will produce lasting economic and security benefits for our state and the nation. https://t.co/7FyEEddJ3D
“We finally did it, Willow is finally reapproved, and we can almost literally feel Alaska’s future brightening because of it,” Murkowski said.
Biden promised no new oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters as a presidential candidate in 2020, and members of his own party criticized him Monday for the decision.
“Approval of the Willow Project is an environmental injustice,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement. “The Biden administration’s decision to move forward with one of the largest oil development projects in decades sends the wrong message to our international partners, the climate and environmental justice movement, and young people who organized to get historic clean energy and climate investments into law last year.”
Sunrise Movement, an environmental advocacy group, tweeted that instead of “sticking to his own climate goals and listening to the millions of young people who carried the party for the last three elections, @POTUS is letting the fossil fuel industry have their way.”
President Biden officially approved the Willow Project.— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) March 13, 2023
Instead of sticking to his own climate goals and listening to the millions of young people who carried the party for the last three election cycles, @POTUS is letting the fossil fuel industry have their way. pic.twitter.com/45mjJflMYK
Scott Howell, a former Utah state senator and advocate for the Biden Administration, said the president has to do what he thinks is best even if he may be frustrating some members of his party and those in the environmental movement.
“Really, it’s about compromise, and becoming more energy sufficient and not dependent on foreign oil,” he said, saying Biden has had an “aggressive climate agenda” since coming into office.
Additionally, ConocoPhillips owned leases on the land, and to deny those would have led to a protracted legal battle, he said.
The Interior Department also defended Biden’s environmental record and noted the scope of the project was reduced from five proposed drill sites to three, and ConocoPhillips will relinquish rights to leases for about 68,000 acres in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.
“In his first year, President Biden protected more lands and waters than any president since John F. Kennedy,” the Interior Department said in a statement.
ConocoPhilips CEO Ryan Lance said in a statement the Biden administration made “the right decision for Alaska and our nation.” The Houston-based company announced earlier this year that in 2022 it more than doubled its profits to $18.7 billion.
A 2020 Morning Consult poll found 43% of registered voters are opposed to opening more U.S. public lands for oil and gas drilling and 38% support doing so.
Contributing: Suzanne Bates