A controversial Arctic oil project is one step closer to moving forward | smart news

A rainbow over the Kokalik River in Alaska

The Kokalik River in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

A plan to drill for oil at a long-disputed site in the Arctic is one step closer to moving forward after the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommended it last week.

ConocoPhillips, the oil company behind the proposal, bought its leases to drill before President Joe Biden took office. This move toward approval of the project, dubbed Willow, sparks a climate controversy under an administration that has pledged to halt further drilling on federal land, the report writes. Washington Postby Timothy Puko.

The recommendation is not a final decision on Willow, which will be issued in at least several weeks, according to the BLM. Despite the recommendation, officials are not entirely on board with the idea. The Department of the Interior, which houses the BLM, says in a statement that it “has substantial concerns about the Willow project…including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on wildlife and native livelihoods.” from Alaska”.

Environmentalists have also raised concerns about the potential local climate and ecological impacts of the project, which would be located in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve. State leaders have supported the development, saying it will create jobs and help support domestic energy production.

Over approximately 30 years, drilling would produce approximately 629 million barrels of oil and emit approximately 280 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, a level of emissions similar to that of 2.5 average-sized coal-fired power plants operating during the same lifetime. amount of time, according Internal Weather News Nicholas Kusnetz.

“This would be the largest proposed oil extraction project anywhere in the US, and is drastically out of step with the Biden administration’s goals of reducing climate pollution and transitioning to clean energy,” Jeremy Lieb , lead attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental agency. legal organization that has sued the federal government over Willow, says in a statement.

The Alaska National Petroleum Reserve is a 23 million acre area in the northern part of the state. It was set aside as an emergency oil supply for the US Navy in 1923 and transferred to the Department of the Interior in 1976. Migratory birds, brown bears, caribou, polar bears, walrus, and beluga whales they rely on the preserve for habitat, according to the Alaska Nature League. The native communities living in and around the area subsist on its living resources.

The Trump administration first approved the Willow project, and the Biden administration also supported it. But a federal judge struck down the approval in 2021 and returned it to the BLM for further consideration. The judge found the Trump administration’s environmental analysis insufficient and said it did not fully consider the project’s potential to threaten wildlife or the climate, writes the New York Times Lisa Friedmann.

In a new environmental impact statement released last week, BLM suggests a preferred alternative for the project that involves proceeding with just three of the original five proposed drill sites, with a possible fourth to be added in the future. The BLM says this alternative would reduce the footprint in an area that is home to thousands of migratory birds and is a calving area and migration corridor for caribou. It will also reduce the length of pipelines, gravel driveways, and ice driveways.

Supporters of the bill include the Alaska congressional delegation, labor unions and some Alaska Native tribal governments, according to the Times.

“We believe Willow will benefit local communities and enhance America’s energy security while producing oil in an environmentally and socially responsible manner,” Erec Isaacson, president of ConocoPhillips Alaska, said in a statement.

Earthjustice says BLM’s preferred alternative would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3 to 9 percent compared to the original proposal, according to the Mail.

The Interior Department said it could select a different alternative, including no action or postponement of additional drill sites.

The Arctic is feeling particularly strong impacts from climate change. The area has been warming nearly four times faster than the rest of the world, according to the guardian‘s Maanvi Singh.

“Our native villages are eroding into the sea, thawing permafrost is making infrastructure unsafe, and food sources are disappearing,” Karlin Nageak Itchoak, senior regional director at the nonprofit Wilderness Society, tells the publication. . “And this project would only exacerbate and accelerate the climate crisis in the Arctic.”