As of: 03/13/2023 6:44 p.m
The oil company ConocoPhillips is allowed to develop new oil fields in northern Alaska. Environmentalists accuse the Biden government of breaking its word, because the US President had promised not to allow any more drilling.
US President Joe Biden has approved a major oil production project in the US state of Alaska – although he had declared that he would no longer allow any new oil drilling on public land. As part of the so-called Willow project, three drilling fields are therefore permitted, which the oil company ConocoPhillips wants to exploit. In total, around 600 million barrels of oil are at stake.
According to the company, 219 wells are to be drilled in the fields, which could produce 180,000 barrels per day. The construction of the plants would create 2500 jobs, for the later operation 300 workers would be needed. The public coffers could hope for billions in revenue from taxes and duties. Politically, the project has broad support in the US state.
Original plans clipped together
The oil fields are located in the North Slope, the northern part of Alaska, which is very sparsely populated and largely untouched. ConocoPhillips’ plans were originally larger, including roads, several bridges and pipelines, and more oil fields. The previous US administration under Donald Trump had already approved the project, but a court criticized the underlying environmental impact analysis and stopped the project in 2021.
In the new approval, the oil company’s plans were somewhat slashed. The US Department of the Interior said it was designed to minimize disruption, including to polar bear and waterfowl habitats. In addition, the Biden government only announced on Sunday that it would ban or restrict oil production in other regions of Alaska. Accordingly, oil production in the Beaufort Sea is excluded and restricted in large areas of the mainland.
Lawsuits expected from environmentalists
Environmentalists have criticized the decision. They had previously launched a campaign to stop the Willow project. Biden’s approval violates his promise not to allow new oil drilling on public land, they said. Environmental organizations are expected to appeal the decision.
The head of the environmental organization Natural Resources Defense Council, Christy Goldfuss, was “deeply disappointed” by Biden’s announcement. “This decision is bad for the climate, bad for the environment, and bad for the Alaska Natives who oppose the project but have not been heard,” she said.