The Biden administration on Monday will formally approve a huge oil drilling project in Alaska known as Willow, according to two people familiar with the decision, despite widespread opposition because of its likely environmental and climate impacts.
The president will also impose sweeping restrictions on offshore oil leasing in the Arctic Ocean and across Alaska’s North Slope in an apparent effort to temper criticism over the Willow decision and, as one administration official put it, to form a “firewall” to limit future oil leases in the region. The Interior Department also is expected to issue new rules to protect more than 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska from oil and gas leasing.
The restrictions, however, are unlikely to offset concerns that the $8 billion Willow project, led by oil giant ConocoPhillips, will have the potential to produce more than 600 million barrels of crude over 30 years.
Burning all that oil could release nearly 280 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. On an annual basis, that would translate into 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution, equal to adding nearly two million cars to the roads each year. The United States, the second biggest polluter on the planet after China, emits about 5.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
The president has been lobbied fiercely by the oil industry and Alaska lawmakers to approve the Willow drilling project, which will take place inside the petroleum reserve. Other supporters, including labor unions, building trades and some residents of the North Slope, have argued that the project would create about 2,500 jobs and generate as much as $17 billion in revenue for the federal government.
At the same time, environmental activists and some Native American communities have fought the project through online campaigns, protests and meetings with federal officials, charging that approval of the project would be a betrayal of Mr. Biden’s pledge to move the nation away from fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency has said that governments must stop approving new oil, gas and coal projects if the planet is to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
Why? Why do this? What is the possible upside here? Biden is such a man of the 70s and he’s been driven by short-term interests over American “energy independence.” It’s hard to make an argument that he is remotely useful around climate issues after this decision.