It's a Momentous Day for the Arctic

US allows massive Willow drilling project even as it unveils separate protections
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2023 7:35 AM CDT
Updated Mar 18, 2023 4:30 PM CDT
It's a Momentous Day for the Arctic
This 2019 aerial photo provided by ConocoPhillips shows an exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project on Alaska's North Slope.   (ConocoPhillips via AP, File)
UPDATE Mar 13, 2023 11:11 AM CDT

The Biden administration did indeed approve the Willow oil-drilling project in the Arctic on Monday, reports the Hill. The decision in favor of ConocoPhillips is not sitting well with environmentalists.

Mar 13, 2023 7:35 AM CDT

Environmentalists worried about the Arctic might be feeling whiplash. Over the weekend, the Biden administration announced protections for about 16 million acres of pristine land. However, the good will is expected to come crashing to a halt on Monday, when the US is expected to announce that a major oil-drilling project can move forward in the region. Coverage:

  • Willow: The oil-drilling project is called Willow, and a number of major outlets—including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN—says the US has decided after a long review to allow it to move forward. Energy giant ConocoPhillips would get permission for three drilling sites, which is fewer than the five sought but still a huge disappointment to environmental groups.

  • Where: ConocoPhillips would be able to drill in National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, whose 23 million acres on Alaska's North Slope make up the largest single expanse of public land, per the Times.
  • Criticism: The weekend announcement of protections for 16 million acres in the preserve appears to be an attempt by the White House to temper criticism ahead of the announcement, according to the Post. If so, the strategy isn't working. “It’s lipstick on a pig,” says Jamal Raad of Evergreen Action. “This does not negate or discount the climate impacts of the Willow project in any way, shape or form.” The Sierra Club tells Politico the same, asserting that "the benefits of these protections can be undone just as quickly by approval of oil and gas projects on public lands, and right now, no proposal poses a bigger threat to lands, wildlife, communities, and our climate than ConocoPhillips’ Willow project.”
  • Dueling numbers: Alaska lawmakers including GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have been pushing hard for approval of Willow, which could create about 2,500 jobs and generate billions in revenue. It's “one of the biggest, most important resource development projects in our state’s history," says Sullivan. Environmentalists focus on other numbers: The project could produce 180,000 barrels of oil a day and hundreds of million barrels over 30 years in what is now Alaskan wilderness. They call it a "carbon bomb," per the AP, seeing it as the equivalent of adding 2 million cars to the roads each year.
(Read more Arctic stories.)

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