The Biden Administration approved a controversial oil and drilling project, known as Willow, that has sparked backlash amongst environmental activists and mixed feelings in the fossil fuel industry.
The company behind the Willow project, ConocoPhillips, says the $8 billion proposal will create local investment and thousands of jobs. The oil development is located on Alaska’s remote North Slope and could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day.
The Department of Interior estimates that it will produce up to 278 million metric tons of CO2 over its 30-year lifetime—the equivalent of adding two million cars to US roads every year.
To combat criticism, the Biden administration declared the Arctic Ocean off limits to oil and gas leasing and imposed regulations to protect about 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Anti-Willow activists praised the administration’s plans to protect the Arctic but argued that approving the Willow project is inconsistent with Biden’s promises to fight climate change.
As a presidential candidate in 2020, in a debate against Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden promised that there would be “no more drilling on federal lands, period.” Last year, however, the administration decided to sell drilling leases under pressure from the courts, breaking his original promise.
Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “It’s insulting that Biden thinks this will change our minds about the Willow project. Protecting one area of the Arctic so you can destroy another doesn’t make sense, and it won’t help the people and wildlife who will be upended by the Willow project.”
The decision by the Biden administration has also garnered mixed reviews from the fossil fuel industry. According to USA Today, Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy at the American Petroleum Institute, said the protections of the Arctic send “mixed signals” on energy policy.
“By imposing these restrictions, the Department of Interior appears to be treating their statutory obligations as a bargaining chip,” he said. Macchiarola added that Biden needs to focus on “real solutions” to cut down on emissions.
According to BBC, more than one million letters were written to the White House, and a Change.org petition amassed more than three million signatures calling for the Willow Project to be halted over its climate and wildlife impacts.