Potus Approves Willow Project, Creates Some Division

The Willow Project, a controversial Arctic drilling plan that has received bipartisan support from Alaska’s political leaders but has been chastised in similar fashion as other projects in the state such as the Pebble Mine, has been officially improved by the federal government.
Here’s more from ABC News:

The Interior Department gave formal approval of the ConocoPhillips Willow Project proposal after the Biden administration said it substantially reduced the size of the project by allowing three drill sites instead of the five in the original proposal. The decision also requires the company to relinquish its leases for 68,000 acres to create a buffer between the infrastructure for the Willow site and migratory routes for a nearby caribou herd.

“President Biden is delivering on the most aggressive climate agenda of any U.S. president in history and spurring an unprecedented expansion of clean energy,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement Saturday.

The Willow Project was initially approved in 2020 by the Trump administration, but a federal judge threw out the permits for the oil project in August 2021, faulting the way the federal government had assessed its environmental impact. The Interior Department, which was responsible for the final decision on whether to approve the project, has said it has “substantial concerns” about the environmental impact of the project, including the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it would generate and impacts to local wildlife.

The Interior also announced Sunday that the administration will move to protect 16 million acres of Alaska from future oil and gas developments in an attempt to split the difference between the Willow Project decision and the intense concern from environmentalists that any new fossil fuel projects puts the country’s climate goals at risk. The administration has argued it has limited ability to block Willow because the permits were previously issued in 2020 and ConocoPhillips already held lease rights in the area, so it could easily challenge a denial in court.

Alaska’s top politicians – Republican Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Rep. Mary Peltola have all supported the Willow Project.

Sullivan released a statement today.

Also, Sullivan, Murkowski and Peltola released a joint statement this morning:

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska) and Representative Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) today welcomed the Biden administration’s decision to reapprove ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project within Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve (NPRA). After litigation, a court remand, years of supplemental environmental analysis, and a united statewide push in strong support, the administration’s final Record of Decision reapproves an economically viable three-pad project.

“We finally did it, Willow is finally reapproved, and we can almost literally feel Alaska’s future brightening because of it. After years of relentless advocacy, we are now on the cusp of creating thousands of new jobs, generating billions of dollars in new revenues, improving quality of life on the North Slope and across our state, and adding vital energy to TAPS to fuel the nation and the world,” Sen. Murkowski said. “This was Alaska at its very best, with ConocoPhillips, Alaska Native leaders, labor leaders, our unanimous State Legislature, and so many more joining with the delegation to do everything we could to make this happen. I thank the administration for listening to Alaskans, rejecting false claims meant to sink this project, and having the courage to make the right decision on Willow.” 

“Today’s Record of Decision (ROD) on the Willow Project is critically important for Alaska’s economy, good-paying jobs for our families, and the future prosperity of our state,” Sen. Sullivan said. “This decision is also crucial for our national security and environment. Producing much-needed American energy in Alaska with the world’s highest environmental standards and lowest emissions enhances the global environment. I can’t thank enough all of the Alaskans who got involved in this fight, including our state legislators, union leaders, industry, university and business officials, and thousands of others from diverse backgrounds who came together to promote a brighter future for Alaska. In particular, I’d like to commend the Alaskans who live on the North Slope, whose ancestors have inhabited the lands closest to this project for thousands of years, and who bravely spoke out—even as far-left, Lower 48, eco-colonialist NGOs continued their efforts to silence Alaska Native voices.

“The fight to unleash American and Alaskan energy is far from over. The fact that this Willow ROD comes with the announcement of future legally-dubious resource development restrictions on Alaska lands and waters is infuriating and demonstrates that the Biden Administration’s unprecedented lock-up of our state will continue. With the Willow ROD issued today, we are prepared to defend this decision against likely frivolous legal challenges from the same Lower 48 NGOs who’ve consistently tried to kill the Willow Project. We will do so by working closely with the same Alaska stakeholders who brought us this far. We hope that the Alaska federal judge taking this case hears and respects their voices. Alaskans should take pride in knowing that when we come together and fight together for our common prosperity, our voices cannot be ignored.”

“Today, the people of Alaska were heard,” said Rep. Peltola. “After years of consistent, determined advocacy for this project, from people all across the state and from every walk of life, the Willow Project is finally moving forward. I would like to thank the President and his administration for listening to the voices of Alaskans when it mattered most. I would also like to thank Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, and most importantly, our entire movement of Alaska Natives, laborers, state legislators, and everyday Alaskans who never gave up on this goal. Now, it’s on us here in Alaska to make sure that we make the best of this opportunity—that we use the revenues and jobs and economic opportunity from this project to make investments in the future of Alaska. We need to build up our schools, our housing stock, our rural Internet and electric grids, and more, in order to make this a truly 21st-century economy. We can make Alaska a national and global example of what an energy bridge to the future truly looks like, and I am looking forward to meeting this challenge.” 

The Department of the Interior’s Record of Decision for the Willow Project is now available here.  

To read the congressional delegation’s recent opinion piece in support of the Willow Project, click here

To read the resolution the Alaska State Legislature unanimously passed in support of the Willow Project, click here.

Environmental and conservation groups displayed opposition earlier this year when the project’s path was moved forward by the Biden administration. And that was conveyed with statements released this morning, starting with the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Biden Administration Approves Massive Oil Drilling Project in Alaska

WASHINGTON (March 13, 2023) – The Biden administration approved a massive expansion of oil drilling in Alaska, giving ConocoPhillips permission to begin its Willow project in the state’s western Arctic.

Christy Goldfuss, chief policy impact officer at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), made the following statement:

“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.

“Willow is a project out of time. With science demanding an end to fossil fuels, this locks in decades more dependence on oil. With the climate crisis worsening by the day, this has the same yearly carbon footprint of roughly 1.1 million homes – more than are in Chicago. With clean energy investment driving a heartland manufacturing renaissance, this stakes our future on the fuels of the past.

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

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC 

And from Earthjustice:

Decision greenlights a carbon bomb and opens decades of oil drilling in Western Arctic

ANCHORAGE, AK — The Biden Administration today announced its approval of ConocoPhillips’s Willow project, ignoring pleas from millions who called for the Alaska oil-drilling plan to be halted due to concerns about climate change. The Interior Department released a record of decision that largely reflects ConocoPhillips’s desired project blueprint and ignores its dire climate and biodiversity impacts. Approval of the Willow project stands in stark contrast to President Biden’s climate goals and commitment to the Paris agreement. 

Interior’s decision approves three drilling pads, which combined will produce 92 percent of the oil ConocoPhillips initially sought to develop, a staggering climate impact amounting to more than 260 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. The GHG emissions from Willow will equal that of 56 million cars driven for one year, or nearly 70 coal fired power plants operating for one year. This project is also intended to be a stepping-stone for future development. ConocoPhillips has described Willow to its investors as the “next great Alaska hub,” saying it had identified up to 3 billion barrels of nearby prospects that could be accessed if the Willow infrastructure were in place. ConocoPhillips holds about 1 million of the 2.5 million acres already under lease in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. 

As part of the decision to approve Willow, the Biden administration also finished the job of protecting federal Arctic waters from new oil and gas leasing and announced a process to increase protections of important biological areas in the Western Arctic. These are positive steps, and we applaud them. However, they cannot compensate for the harm and disruption to the climate and to the Western Arctic and its residents that Willow would inflict for years to come.  

Willow — set to become the largest new oil project on U.S. public lands — will also permanently alter the globally significant and ecologically rich Western Arctic by disrupting animal migration patterns, eroding precious habitat, harming subsistence practices, and posing unacceptable health risks for Alaska Native communities. 

Today’s ROD follows a final supplemental environmental impact statement that was released in February, at which time the Biden Administration acknowledged “substantial concerns” about the Willow project including its greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence. Since then, around 5.6 million people have called on the Biden Administration to prioritize climate progress, the environment, and Indigenous communities over widely harmful industry demands.  

Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen issued the following statement in response: 

“We are too late in the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden Administration committed to advancing. We know President Biden understands the existential threat of climate, but he is approving a project that derails his own climate goals.” 

And here’s some further reaction on social media: