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Biden expected to move forward on major oil project in Alaska


WASHINGTON — In one of his administration’s most important climate decisions, President Biden plans to greenlight a massive $8 billion oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, according to a person familiar with of the decision.

Lawmakers and oil executives in Alaska have exerted intense pressure on the White House to approve the project, citing President Biden’s own calls for industry to increase production amid volatile oil prices. gas resulting from Russia’s war against Ukraine.

But the proposal to drill for oil has also galvanized young voters and climate activists, many of whom helped elect Mr Biden and who would view the decision as a betrayal of the president’s promise to pivot the nation away from combustibles. fossils.

Approval of the largest proposed oil project in the country would mark a watershed in the administration’s approach to fossil fuel development. Courts and Congress have forced Mr. Biden to backtrack on his campaign promise to “no more drilling on federal lands, period” and sign some limited oil and gas leases. The Willow project is said to be one of the few oil developments Mr. Biden has freely endorsed, without a court or congressional mandate.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who has championed the project, said late Friday that she had not been told of the decision. “We’re not celebrating yet, not with this White House,” she said.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, pushed back against the idea that a final decision had been made.

ConocoPhillips intends to build the Willow project inside the National Petroleum Reserve, a 23 million acre area 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The reserve, which has no roads, is the largest stretch of virgin land in the country.

The administration slightly reduced the number of drilling sites requested by the company from five to three. Still, Willow would be the largest new oil development in the United States, expected to pump 600 million barrels of crude over the next 30 years.

Burning this oil could release nearly 280 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, according to a federal study. Environmental activists, who called the project a “carbon bomb”, argued that the project would deepen America’s dependence on oil and gas at a time when the International Energy Agency said the nations had to stop allowing such projects to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. .

News of the administration’s intention to approve Project Willow was first reported by Bloomberg. The decision was one of the toughest energy issues the Biden administration has faced.

Kevin Book, managing director of Clearview Energy Partners, a Washington-based research firm, said Willow’s endorsement would be a pragmatic decision. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many countries have stopped or reduced purchases of Russian gas and oil to reduce Moscow’s revenue. These budget cuts have reshaped energy markets, created shortages in Europe and pushed the United States to fill the void by producing more oil and gas.

“The war is not over,” Mr. Book said. “There is still a big potential risk to supply, and it’s not going to end even if war breaks out.”

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He also argued that emissions from burning oil drilled from the Willow Project would not have been eliminated if Mr Biden had rejected the project, but simply generated elsewhere.

Administration officials are moving forward with the Willow project despite “substantial concerns” about emissions, danger to freshwater sources and migratory animals. The government has stipulated conditions that include protecting wildlife and reducing the length of gravel and ice roads, pipelines and the length of airstrips to support the drilling.

The Alaska congressional delegation, which is unanimous in its support for Willow, met with Mr. Biden last week. Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican, said he presented the president with a unanimous bipartisan resolution in favor of the bill recently passed by the Alaska Legislature.

Speaking in Houston at a gathering of oil executives this week, Sullivan said Biden’s decision on Willow was a test of whether the administration was serious about energy security.

Other proponents, including the Congressional delegation, unions, building trades and some North Slope residents, argued the project would create about 2,500 jobs and generate up to $17 billion in revenue for the government. federal.

At a recent meeting convened by Ms. Murkowski, Taqulik Hepa, director of the Department of Wildlife Management for the North Slope Borough, said that municipal services in her community depended on taxes on oil and gas infrastructure.

Ms Hepa said the borough and its residents are “very conscious of the need to balance responsible oil development and the subsistence lifestyle that has sustained us.”

Environmental opponents of the project say it’s incomprehensible that a president who wants to tackle climate change could endorse Project Willow. The administration estimates that oil-related emissions would total about 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year, the equivalent of adding nearly two million cars to the roads each year.

This month activists staged a protest in the rain outside the White House and rallied on Tik Tok and other social media against the project with the hashtag #StopWillow, which has been used hundreds of millions of times. . A petition for “Say No to the Willow Project” on Change.org has over three million signatures and continues to grow.

Karlin Itchoak, senior regional director for Alaska at the Wilderness Society, an environmental group, said approving Willow would be “a terrible and anti-science decision” and hopes the administration will change course.

“Let’s be clear: Willow hasn’t been approved yet, and it’s not an acceptable project,” Itchoak said. “The Biden administration needs to do the right thing and choose a no-action alternative in a decision docket to kill this destructive proposal.”

Among the fiercest opponents of the project are members of the closest community. Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, the mayor of Nuiqsut, an Inupiat community about 35 miles from the Willow site, said increased oil and gas development in the area posed an existential threat to her community of about 500 people.

About half of the reserve is off-limits to oil and gas leases and is where residents fish and hunt caribou, seals and other animals to eat as food.

In a letter this week to Deb Haaland, the Interior Secretary, who fought the Willow project when she served in Congress, Ms Ahtuangaruak said recent environmental reviews of the project had failed to adequately consider the impact on subsistence hunting and other local community needs. .

The federal agency, she wrote, “does not examine the harm this project would cause from the perspective of how to let us be us – how to ensure that we can maintain our culture, our traditions and our ability to keep going out on land and water.

Davenport Coral Katie Rogers And Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed report.

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