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Monday, September 25, 2023

US government approves Willow Project’s oil and gas development in Alaska


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A significant oil and gas drilling project in Alaska that was opposed vehemently by environmentalists has been approved by US President Joe Biden.

ConocoPhillips, the company behind the Willow project, claims it will attract local investment and generate thousands of jobs.

But in recent weeks, there has been a flood of online activism against the $8 billion (£6.6 billion) proposal, especially among young activists on TikTok.

Its effects on the climate and wildlife led opponents to argue that it should be stopped.

It is the largest oil development in the area in decades and could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day. It is situated on Alaska’s remote North Slope.

Estimates from the US Bureau of Land Management indicate that it could produce up to 278 million metric tonnes of CO2e over the course of its 30-year lifespan, which is the same as adding two million new cars to US roads each year.

The climate impact of all greenhouse gases combined, as if they were all released as carbon dioxide, is expressed in CO2e.

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As a sort of compromise with anti-Willow activists, Monday’s announcement will only permit three drill sites for the project as opposed to the five that were initially proposed.

The approval also comes one day after the Biden administration imposed limits on oil and gas drilling in 16 million acres of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean.

Biden limits drilling but considers a significant oil project
TikTokers focus on the contentious Willow oil project
Environmentalists had claimed that President Biden’s promises to take the lead on climate action were contradicted by Willow.

A Change.org petition requesting the suspension of Willow received more than three million signatures, and more than one million letters of protest were sent to the White House.

The environmental charity Sierra Club stated on Monday that the decision was wrong and would be disastrous for communities, lands, wildlife, and our climate.

Alaskan Iuipat activist Sonny Ahk claimed that Willow would “lock in Arctic oil and gas extraction for another 30 years and catalyze future oil expansion in the Arctic” when he advocated against it.

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Local residents are left to deal with the negative effects of being surrounded by massive drilling operations, he claimed, while out-of-state executives reap record profits.

However, all three of Alaska’s congressional representatives—two Republicans and a Democrat—fought to have the project approved, praising it as a vital investment in the local communities.

They also claimed that it would lessen the nation’s reliance on foreign oil while boosting domestic energy production.

“This was the best decision for Alaska and our country,” ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance said on Monday.

He claimed that the US energy giant, which already produces the most crude oil in Alaska, will increase energy security, produce quality union jobs, and benefit Alaska Native communities.

line Analysis box by environment correspondent Matt McGrath
Why did a president who supports aggressive climate change action just approve a project known as a “carbon bomb”?

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It’s because politics and the law—rather than the environment—are the focus of Willow.

Joe Biden pledged “no more drilling on federal lands, ever” while running for office.

However, last year, he approved plans to sell new drilling leases in response to court pressure. It’s possible that the courts will apply similar pressure once more.

The Biden administration is aware that the project cannot be justified solely in terms of climate change.

Thus, they attempted to strike a balance between the approval and fresh prohibitions on leasing for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean.

But the majority of environmentalists don’t accept that compromise.

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