Factbox-What is the Willow Project in Alaska and Why Do Green Activists Oppose It?
(Reuters) – US President Joe Biden’s administration announced on Monday it would approve a slimmed-down version of ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil and gas drilling project in Alaska, sparking furious reactions from climate activists.
Here are some details about the project:
WHAT IS THE WILLOW PROJECT?
The Willow Project is a $6 billion proposal by ConocoPhillips to drill for oil and gas in Alaska. It would be within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a 23 million acre (93 million hectare) area on the state’s north shore that is the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States.
WHAT HAS BEEN ALLOWED?
Biden’s Interior Department on Monday approved a version of the project that would include three drill sites and less surface infrastructure than originally proposed. ConocoPhillips originally wanted to build up to five drill sites, dozens of miles (km) of roads, seven bridges and pipelines.
The Home Office said the project’s reduced scope would help reduce its impact on habitats for species such as polar bears and loons.
The entire project was originally approved by the Trump administration years ago, but a federal judge in Alaska overturned that decision in 2021, saying the environmental analysis was flawed and needed to be redone.
WHAT IS THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT?
The Home Office has stressed the fact that it did not support the full proposal and only approved a stripped-down version to reduce environmental risk. The agency also announced over the weekend that it would exclude other parts of the Arctic from future drilling leases.
However, environmental groups remain unhappy with the decision, arguing that the project, even in its smaller form, runs counter to the Biden administration’s promises to tackle climate change and poses a threat to the pristine wilderness.
ConocoPhillips said the stripped down plan represents “a viable way forward” for Willow and is ready to begin construction immediately upon approval.
WHY IS WILLOW IMPORTANT TO ALASKA?
The Willow project area contains an estimated 600 million barrels of oil, or more than the amount currently stored in the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the country’s back-up supply.
The project is important to Alaska’s elected officials, who hope it will help offset the decline in oil production in a state whose economy depends heavily on the drilling industry.
ConocoPhillips said the project would generate up to $17 billion in revenue for federal and state governments and local communities in Alaska.
The Biden administration has also urged US oil companies to invest in increasing production to keep consumer energy prices under control.
(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Jonathan Oatis)