(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden is nearing a critical decision on a proposed massive oil project in northwest Alaska that could unleash 600 million barrels of crude and has drawn the ire of environmentalists. who have called it a “carbon bomb”.
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Biden’s verdict on ConocoPhillips’ $8 billion Willow venture in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve is seen as a litmus test of his commitment to combat climate change.
“The decision on this project is an indicator of whether we are really going to do something serious about climate in time or whether we are just pretending,” said Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen. “On its own, this would be the largest oil and gas project in a country that has become the world’s largest oil and gas producer.”
The project poses a political risk to the president, who has implored oil companies to ramp up production even as he tries to speed up the US transition to emissions-free energy. It also presents a new test of Biden’s ability to balance the desires of two often competing constituencies: environmentalists and organized labor.
The Interior Department is expected to release a final environmental impact statement for Willow in the coming days, ordered after a federal court threw out the previous analysis and approval of the project by the Trump administration. That may telegraph support for a plan that allows the company to drill three wells at the site, helping to deliver up to 180,000 barrels a day at estimated peak production. But it is the final decision of the Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, which is expected no sooner than 30 days, that she will dictate if the project goes ahead.
ConocoPhillips’ Alaska operations director warned that it would not be economically viable to impose further restrictions that would reduce drilling to just two locations.
Willow’s analysis is expected to be released as the Biden administration takes other steps to shield Alaska from development. On Wednesday, the US Forest Service banned logging and construction of new roads in the Tongass National Forest. And next week, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue a final determination banning the disposal of mining waste in Bristol Bay, which would thwart the long-planned Pebble copper-gold mine.
Willow supporters, including members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, labor unions and some North Slope residents, argue the project would bring much-needed crude to a market eager for alternatives to Russian oil while improving US energy security. , maintains jobs and generates revenue for the Government.
economic life line
It would also extend an economic lifeline throughout the region, said Nagruk Harcharek, president of Voice of the Arctic Inupiat, a nonprofit group that serves eight communities in Alaska’s North Slope County. Oil development on the North Slope provides critical revenue for the municipality, supporting local schools, emergency services and search and rescue operations.
“The economic benefits it brings to our region allow us to be self-determined in many ways,” Harcharek said. “We are in control of our schools, we are in control of our police and fire departments, we are in control of the services we provide to our people.”
The project would be located in the northeast portion of the 23 million acre NPR-A, with some activities near Lake Teshekpuk, which provides critical habitat for waterfowl, caribou, and other wildlife.
Environmentalists and some Alaska Natives have implored the government to block the project, through rallies outside the White House and by directly appealing to Biden administration officials. Climate activists argue that it would provide a hub for future oil development and, even on its own, would release more oil and carbon dioxide emissions than an ever-warming planet can afford. Others have warned that it could endanger caribou populations and harm the subsistence lifestyles of nearby villages.
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