U.S. Approves $7 Billion ConocoPhillips Alaska Oil Project

The Biden Administration has approved a scale back version of ConocoPhillips’ $7 billion Alaska oil and gas drilling project. The decision has been welcomed by Alaskan officials and the oil industry, but drew criticism from environmental groups. The decision comes after an aggressive campaign from the project’s opponents, who have been saying that it conflicts with Biden’s efforts to fights climate change and shift to cleaner energy sources. Meanwhile, Alaskan government officials say the project will create hundreds of jobs and bring billions of dollars in revenue to state and federal budget. Although Alaska relies heavily on oil revenue, the output has been steadily declining from its peak in late 1980s.

“I feel the people of Alaska have been heard,” U.S. Representative Peltola, a Democrat from Alaska, said on a call with reporters. “The state of Alaska cannot carry the burden of solving our global warming issues alone.”

The project’s future has been closely watched as Biden tries to balance his target to decarbonize the U.S. economy, while increasing domestic fuel supplies and keep prices low.

The United Nations, which has urged nations to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels, criticized the move.

“These are not projects that move us in the right direction,” U.N. spokesperson Dujarric told reporters when asked about the Willow approval.

The U.S. Interior Department approved the project with three drill pads after saying last month it was concerned about the greenhouse gas impacts of Willow. ConocoPhillips had sought to build up to five drill sites and project infrastructure including dozens of miles of roads and pipelines and seven bridges

The department said the smaller scope will reduce the impact on habitats for species like polar bears and yellow-billed loons.

The Biden administration also announced late on Sunday sweeping new protections for undisturbed Alaskan lands and waters that would keep nearly 3 million acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean “indefinitely off limits” for oil and gas leasing, effectively closing off U.S. Arctic waters to oil exploration. It also issued protections for 13 million acres of “ecologically sensitive” special areas within Alaska’s petroleum reserve.

Environmental groups, however, criticized the Biden administration, saying it was trying to have it “both ways” on climate change.

“This was the right decision for Alaska and our nation,” ConocoPhillips Chief Executive Lance said in a statement.

U.S. Senator Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, on Monday welcomed the “good news,” saying “this will mean jobs and revenue for Alaska” by bringing upwards of 180,000 barrels of oil per day into the Trans Alaska Pipeline.

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