Climate protectors were up in arms, now the approval is there: US President Joe Biden has approved new oil drilling in Alaska. In doing so, he breaks his promises.
Joe Biden wanted to get the USA back on track, to do better than his predecessor Donald Trump: No more new oil and gas projects on state property, back to the Paris climate agreement, the fight against global warming as the top priority, he promised in the 2020 election campaign.
He has broken that promise once again. Last Monday, the Biden administration approved a huge new oil exploration project in northern Alaska: “Willow.” Well beyond the year 2050, the oil pumped out of the ground there will cause millions of tons of greenhouse gases. So Biden draws anger and disappointment beyond Alaska.
Approved for the second time
For the story behind Project Willow, you have to go back a little. Originally, the Texan energy company Conoco Phillips wanted to get 180,000 barrels a day out of the ground with five drill pads in northern Alaska at peak times.
More than 600 million barrels of oil should therefore be produced over the expected life of the project, 30 to 31 years. According to the Washington Post, Conoco Phillips even spoke to investors of a total of up to 3 billion barrels that could be tapped via the new infrastructure. For comparison: in 2021 the USA produced around 100 million barrels of crude oil.
The area in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska is owned by the state. However, the group has leased it since 1999. Biden’s previous administration under Donald Trump had already approved Project Willow. But a federal judge recovered them in 2021. Reason: The climate impact was not taken into account.
Another check followed – and now the renewed approval, albeit only for three instead of five locations. The day before, the US government had also restricted oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and banned development of 5.26 million hectares of land in the same area.
Cheers from the company and politics
At Conoco Philipps, however, one is relieved: CEO Ryan Lance spoke of “the right decision for Alaska and our country”. He emphasizes the advantages with which the company justifies the project: strengthening energy security and independence, 2,500 new jobs during the construction phase, 300 permanent jobs during the funding period, economic recovery and new infrastructure for the region.
In fact, there is great enthusiasm at the local political level – at least among some. The mayor of the affected county, Harry Brower Jr., is a supporter of the project: “We have better schools, hospitals, emergency services, roads and a much longer life expectancy,” he listed before the project was approved.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski also promoted the Willow project. “We finally made it, Willow is finally legal again, and we can feel the brightening of Alaska’s future as a result,” she said. Last but not least, the company promises state profits of between 8 and 17 billion US dollars (7.4 to 15.8 billion euros) for the US government, the state of Alaska, the region and the communities.
Divided indigenous population
Meanwhile, the indigenous population in the region is divided: the group “Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat” supports the project. Chairman Nagruk Harcharek thanked Biden for the approval: “The Willow Project is a new opportunity to ensure a viable future for our communities, create economic stability for our people across generations, and advance our self-determination.”
But in the 550-inhabitant village of Nuiqsut, the disappointment is great. As recently as January, the community opposed the project. In a letter, officials criticized the authorities and the permitting process, which only focused on granting the permit rather than actually considering the consequences. The accusation: partisanship.