"Willow is on Alaska’s remote North Slope, 966 kilometers north of Anchorage. It is in something called the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which was originally set aside a century ago as an emergency oil supply for the U.S. Navy. The area has been overseen by the U.S. Interior Department since the 1970s, and there has been debate over where development should occur.", wrote Becky Bohrer for Associated Press. "The Biden administration last year limited oil and gas leasing to just over half of the federal lands in the nearly 23-million-acre reserve."
Maxine Joselow adds for the Washington Post: "Opponents hoped Biden would reject energy giant ConocoPhillips’s multibillion-dollar drilling project, on Alaska’s North Slope. But facing the prospect of having such a decision overturned in court, the administration plans to let the oil company build just three pads in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the nation’s largest expanse of public land, these three individuals said. The decision shrinks the project from the five pads that ConocoPhillips originally proposed but allows what company officials have described as a site large enough for them to move forward and start construction within days."
This decision has caused disappointment, reports Becky Bohrer: "Environmental groups see the approval of the Willow project as a betrayal of President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign promises to end new oil and gas drilling on federal lands. They say it is out of step with Biden’s goals to cut carbon emissions and move to clean energy. Using the oil Willow would produce over 30 years would emit roughly as much greenhouse gases as the combined emissions from 1.7 million passenger cars over the same time period." "The approval of the project near the city of Nuiqsut would allow the construction of hundreds of miles of roads and pipelines, airstrips, a gravel mine and a processing facility.", states the Washington Post article. Yet, "the move to bar drilling in the Arctic Ocean comes despite little industry interest in the area. Several major oil companies have exited the region in recent years, citing economic head winds."
This decision is to put in context with a decision to withdraw a part of the National Reserve from the lease: "Biden would use his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to withdraw roughly 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean from future oil and gas leasing, the statement said. The withdrawal would build on President Barack Obama’s decision to put a temporary end to exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the Alaskan coast."
Becky Bohrer reminds the historic and possible future importance of the oil industry for Alaska: "Alaska’s economic fortunes are tied to the boom-and-bust cycles of oil. The flow of oil through the trans-Alaska pipeline is a fraction of what it was at its height in the late 1980s. Willow also is currently the largest proposed oil project on federal lands." Maxine Joselow complements: "Biden’s effort to close off the spigot to future drilling in the region, even as he prepares to approve an operation that could produce between 576 million and 614 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years, highlights the challenge the president faces in delivering on his much-touted climate goals."
"The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes hundreds of top climate and energy experts, has said that the world must zero out greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century to have a hope of meeting its climate goals. Any newly built fossil fuel infrastructure will have to be decommissioned before the end of its useful lifetime, the panel said, or risk pushing the planet past the threshold of catastrophic warming. The region around Nuiqsut is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth. Its average temperature has risen 4 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — more than three times the global average, according to a Washington Post analysis of temperature data. The area is also home to Teshekpuk Lake, a 22-mile-wide reservoir that lies nearly 70 miles west of Nuiqsut. The lake is home to thousands of migrating caribou and roughly 600 000 shorebirds and more than 78 000 molting geese, along with polar bears and other species."
"The Biden administration’s approval earlier this week of the largest new oil project in years on Alaska’s petroleum-rich North Slope was immediately met by lawsuits seeking to stop the Willow project." "Lawsuits filed by environmental groups and an Alaska Native organization seek to overturn Monday’s approval of three drill sites and up to 199 total wells for the ConocoPhillips Alaska project. The lawsuits allege the U.S. government failed to adequately consider alternatives to greenlighting development." "Many Alaska Natives say they support the Willow project because it will bring jobs and money to their communities. But some are opposed, concerned about effects on health, the climate and caribou.", concludes the APNews article