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Biden just approved an Alaska oil drilling project – here’s why that stinks

The Biden administration said on Monday that it’s approving the Willow oil drilling project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

New oil drilling in Alaska

Biden’s Willow plan will allow three drill sites in the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope. ConocoPhillips, which is developing the oil drilling project, has said it will include around 219 wells and that it has the potential to produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day.

ConocoPhillips will also give up rights to around 68,000 acres of existing leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The White House did not post an announcement on its website about the Willow decision, but the US Department of the Interior did and framed it as a “substantial reduction” of the scope of a project.

The White House released a statement declaring that oil drilling will be blocked in around 2.8 million acres in the Arctic Sea, and it limits drilling in another 13 million acres of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. It noted that existing leases would not be affected.

The Bureau of Land Management said it “received substantial input from the public, hosting seven public meetings and receiving more than 200,000 written comment submissions during the public comment period.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is in favor of the Willow project in her state, and the senator pinned a tweet with a video that emphasizes indigenous support and anti-Russian oil:

But Grist notes, “Last spring, a monthlong natural gas leak caused by Conoco’s nearby drilling led to hundreds of evacuations and panic in the Alaska Native village of Nuiqsut.”

In response to the Willow decision, Christy Goldfuss, chief policy impact officer at Natural Resources Defense Council, said:

This is a grievous mistake. It green-lights a carbon bomb, sets back the climate fight and emboldens an industry hell-bent on destroying the planet. It’s wrong on climate and wrong for the country.

We will consider every appropriate tool in our continuing fight to stop the Willow climate bomb.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety, emailed the following statement this morning:

By investing in the fossil-fueled past and not the green-energy future, we are failing frontline environmental justice communities who are bearing the brunt of climate chaos, and American consumers who remain at the whim of rising and volatile prices of oil and gas. I am in solidarity with the community of advocates who oppose this disastrous decision and will continue fighting alongside them to put our people and our planet ahead of the profits of Big Oil.

Electrek’s Take

This is a deeply disappointing decision that flies in the face of all the good the Biden administration has done so far to advance renewables and fight climate change. The bad news about the Willow project is buried within the good news about limiting drilling because they know it’s wrong, so the whole thing is soured.

Willow is going to make climate change worse by adding to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere. The NRDC’s Goldfuss put it into perspective by explaining Willow will have “the same yearly carbon footprint of roughly 1.1 million homes – more than are in Chicago.”

The National Petroleum Reserve is home to wildlife, including caribou, grizzly bears, and migratory birds. The Willow oil project is going to disrupt their habitats and cause harm to the ecosystem.

Top comment by Kojak

Liked by 16 people

I understand why some are disappointed. However, oil production is demand driven - and the quicker we transition to EVs - the less production there will be. If the oil companies can't get their costs out of a new production platform - they won't drill. Meanwhile, it may help control inflation caused by the Russian invasion and the spike in oil prices. In a perfect world - I would prefer to see this oil stay in the ground. But we don't live in a perfect world.

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The oil drilling project is also located near the village of Nuiqsut, with a population of around 400 people, most of whom are indigenous. These communities rely on subsistence hunting and fishing for their livelihoods. Who would want to live next to an oil drilling project?

Litigation by environmental groups against this project is pretty much guaranteed. Bring it on.

Read more: Jim Cramer on Joe Biden, green energy, and Big Oil

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.