The Biden administration is taking another step toward advancing a controversial oil drilling project in Alaska


The Interior Ministry’s Bureau of Land Management came forward on Wednesday the The controversial willow oil exploration project On Alaska’s North Slope, a final environmental impact statement is issued prior to project approval.

ConocoPhillips’ proposed Willow drilling plan is a massive, decades-long project that the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation says will create much-needed jobs in Alaska and boost domestic energy production in the United States.

But environmental groups fear the impact Carbon pollution causing global warming Of the hundreds of millions of barrels of oil it will produce – and they say it will deal a huge blow to President Joe Biden An ambitious climate agenda.

The final environmental report from the Bureau of Land Management recommends a slightly smaller version of what ConocoPhillips originally proposed, with the number of drilling sites capped at three instead of five. The Home Office also recommended other measures to try to reduce pollution of the project, recommending a smaller footprint for gravel roads and pipelines.

In a statement, the Department of Interior said it “has significant concerns about Project Willow and the preferred alternative as presented in the final SEIS, including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on wildlife and the livelihoods of Alaska Natives.”

The Biden administration now has 30 days to issue a final decision on the project, after which drilling can begin. In its statement, the Ministry of Interior said that it may choose a different alternative in the project, including taking no action or further reducing the number of drilling sites.

ConocoPhillips and members of the Alaskan congressional delegation have been pressing the administration to finish the project by the end of February to take advantage of the cold, icy conditions needed for Arctic drilling. If the company misses this window, it may push the project start date to next year.

Eric Isaacson, President, ConocoPhillips Alaska, he said in a statement That nearly five years of regulatory review should end “without delay”. Isaacson added that the project is “ready to start construction immediately” after the Ministry of Interior’s final decision.

According to the Ministry of Interior’s own estimates, the project will produce 629 million barrels of oil over 30 years and release about 278 million metric tons of greenhouse carbon emissions. Climate groups say this is equivalent to the output of 76 coal-fired power plants each year.

“The world and the country can’t develop that oil,” said Jeremy Leib, senior attorney at environmental law firm EarthJustice. Lieb and other advocates worry that Willow could be the start of a future drilling boom in the region.

“Willow is just the beginning of what the industry has planned,” said Leib. “The overall estimate of the amount of oil that is accessible in the area around Willow is 7 or 8 billion barrels.”

For Project Willow, ConocoPhillips is proposing five drilling sites on federal land in Alaska’s North Slope, and the project will include a processing facility, oil pipelines, gravel roads, at least one airstrip, and a gravel mine site.

The project — and the public comment process that led to it — also received heavy criticism from the near Alaskan native village of Nuexot, which some villagers evacuated last year during a gas leak at a ConocoPhillips project in the area. NewExot officials recently released a letter calling the Bureau of Land Management’s public input process “disappointing and inadequate,” criticizing the Trump-Biden administration’s timeline.

The office’s work with us is constantly focused on how to let projects move forward; How do we allow continued expansion and concentration of oil and gas activity on our traditional lands,” Nuexot officials wrote in their letter.

The Alaska delegation urged the entire Congress—including newly elected Democratic Representative Mary Beltula—the White House and Interior to approve the project, saying it would be a huge boost to the state’s economy.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in particular, has been urging the White House and Biden personally to give the green light to Willow, she told CNN.

“I was very adamant about this,” she told CNN in an interview this summer. “Let’s just say, any conversation I’ve had with the White House, anyone close to the White House, brought up the subject of Willow.”

With gas prices soaring last summer, Murkowski, West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and other Senate Republicans have stepped up pressure on Biden to approve a major domestic oil drilling project. Meanwhile, environmental advocates have argued that the project will not lower US gas prices anytime soon, as the infrastructure will take years to build.

“When you think about those things that have to be ready and ready to go, that from my point of view there’s really no excuse why we’re seeing more delays,” Murkowski said. “This is something that has been in the works and has gone through a lot of process across multiple departments.”

This story has been updated with more information.

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