Alaska oil plan heart breaking say campaigners

Environmental activists have hit out at US president Joe Biden after his administration gave the green light for a new $8 billion Alaskan oil project.

The US Department of the Interior has given the go ahead for the Willow project, operated by US oil giant ConocoPhillips.

“This was the right decision for Alaska and our nation,” said Ryan Lance, ConocoPhillips chairman and chief executive officer. “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.”

Located in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A), the Willow project is estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak, decreasing American dependence on foreign energy supplies. The project is projected to deliver between $8 billion to $17 billion in new revenue for the federal government, the state of Alaska and North Slope Borough communities. Willow will be built using materials primarily made and sourced in the U.S. and has the potential to create over 2,500 construction jobs and approximately 300 long-term jobs.

However the project has been scaled down to the decision to go ahead with three drilling pads instead of the originally proposed five. Campaigners said that throughout its 30-year life, the estimated 600 million barrels of oil extracted by Willow will generate an estimated 278 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. It is the equivalent to the emissions of 2 million average automobiles.

Earthjustice said the decision ignored pleas from millions who called for the Alaska oil-drilling plan to be halted due to concerns about climate change.

“The Interior Department released a record of decision that largely reflects ConocoPhillips’s desired project blueprint and ignores its dire climate and biodiversity impacts,” it added. “Approval of the Willow project stands in stark contrast to President Biden’s climate goals and commitment to the Paris agreement.”

The group said the three drilling pads, will produce 92 percent of the oil ConocoPhillips initially sought to develop.

“The GHG emissions from Willow will equal that of 56 million cars driven for one year, or nearly 70 coal fired power plants operating for one year,” Earthjustice said. “This project is also intended to be a stepping-stone for future development. “ConocoPhillips has described Willow to its investors as the ‘next great Alaska hub,’ saying it had identified up to 3 billion barrels of nearby prospects that could be accessed if the Willow infrastructure were in place. ConocoPhillips holds about 1 million of the 2.5 million acres already under lease in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.”

President Joe Biden used the day to announce the decision to remove areas of the country’s Arctic coast from oil and gas exploration.

The president added he had withdrawn from disposition by oil or gas leasing for a time period without specific expiration the areas designated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as the Beaufort Planning Area of the Outer Continental Shelf that have not previously been withdrawn.”

He said the move was “consistent with principles of responsible public stewardship, and with due consideration of the irreplaceable marine and coastal environments — including for marine mammals, other wildlife, wildlife habitat, scientific research, and Alaska Native subsistence use — of the Beaufort Sea area of the Outer Continental Shelf”.

He said the move also recognised the vulnerability of the ecosystems and coastal communities to oil spills, particularly where limited or no oil and gas development has yet occurred; and independently “with due consideration of the national need to curtail, mitigate, build resilience against, and adapt to the devastating and irreversible consequences of climate change for the human environment and for the marine and coastal environments”.

However it cut little ice with environmentalists.

“As part of the decision to approve Willow, the Biden administration also finished the job of protecting federal Arctic waters from new oil and gas leasing and announced a process to increase protections of important biological areas in the Western Arctic. These are positive steps, and we applaud them,” Earthjustice said. “However, they cannot compensate for the harm and disruption to the climate and to the Western Arctic and its residents that Willow would inflict for years to come.”

Earthjustice president Abigail Dillen added: “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. We know President Biden understands the existential threat of climate, but he is approving a project that derails his own climate goals.”

Evergreen Action executive director Lena Moffitt said the decision was heart breaking.

“Approving the Willow Project is an unacceptable departure from President Biden’s promises to the American people on climate and environmental justice. This decision flies in the face of concerns raised by community leaders in Nuiqsut about how this development will threaten their subsistence way of life and worsen their existing air quality crisis; and it will undermine progress towards our climate targets, all for the sake of padding ConocoPhillips’ bottom line.

“After all that this administration has done to advance climate action and environmental justice, it is heart breaking to see a decision that we know will poison Arctic communities and lock in decades of climate pollution we simply cannot afford. President Biden must seriously re-evaluate the decision-making process that allowed him to come to this disastrous conclusion and find a way to ensure that massive fossil fuel projects on public lands are never approved again under his watch.”