President Biden on Monday approved a massive oil drilling project in Alaska that environmentalists and Native American communities warn could pose significant climate and health risks. The Willow Project, a 30-year-long development, is predicted to pump 280 million metric tons of climate pollution, the equivalent of running 2.5 coal plants for the same amount of time. Environmental groups argue that the venture could directly undermine the Biden administration’s goals to curb climate change and become less reliant on fossil fuels.
Headed by Alaska’s largest crude oil producer, ConocoPhillips, the Willow Project will pump more than 600 million barrels of oil over the course of three decades. Native groups, particularly the community closest to the project’s site, have been sharply opposed to the project. As Inside Climate News recently reported:
The Native village that lies closest to the project is also opposed. In comments to the Interior Department, representatives of Nuiqsut have warned that Willow’s construction would disrupt the migration of the caribou that residents depend on for food and that pollution from drilling could harm villagers’ health.
Supporters, including Alaska’s entire Congressional delegation and the leaders of several other Native villages, say Willow would be a boon to the state’s ailing economy, providing billions of dollars to the state and local governments.
According to Inside Climate News, ConocoPhillips poured $8.7 million dollars lobbying Congress and Biden last year. The company is one of the top donors for Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
“We finally did it,” Murkowski said in a statement reacting to Biden’s approval. “Willow is finally reapproved, and we can almost literally feel Alaska’s future brightening because of it.”
Environmental groups, including Earthjustice, are expected to challenge the project in court.
“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,” Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen said on Monday. “We know President Biden understands the existential threat of climate, but he is approving a project that derails his own climate goals.”