The Interior Department on Monday formally approved the Willow Project, a 30-year initiative by ConocoPhillips to drill oil in northwest Alaska, ending weeks of speculation and weekend White House denials.
While the Biden administration has made a public commitment to lowering carbon emissions, it could result in enormous amounts of emissions.
The most productive Alaskan oilfield in decades, according to ConocoPhillips’ projection, will produce about 180,000 barrels per day. According to government calculations, the project could emit 239 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change, over the course of 30 years.
The project has been dubbed a “carbon bomb” by Greenpeace, and Ben Jealous, president of the Sierra Club, warned in a statement on Monday that the carbon pollution it will release into the atmosphere “will have disastrous implications for our communities, wildlife, and the climate.”
All new oil and gas leasing on federal lands was halted by an executive order issued by Biden as soon as he took office. Green organizations applauded the move as a sign of his intentions while Republicans and the oil sector criticized it. However, after a flurry of legal disputes and negative court decisions, the administration eventually resumed lease auctions, including the largest offshore lease sale in history in the Gulf of Mexico in 2021.
The Willow Project will make use of leases that were mostly signed prior to Biden’s election as president. Although the 2022 midterm elections will be the most beneficial for a president’s party in decades, it represents one of the most significant approvals of such a project of his presidency and signals a shift to the center.