The Biden administration will soon approve ConocoPhillips’ Project Willow, a major oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, according to a congressional source familiar with the details. The decision will be announced next week, the source confirmed.
The expected approval is a victory for Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation and a coalition of Alaska Native tribes and groups that hailed the drilling venture as a much-needed new source of income and jobs for the remote region. It’s a big blow to climate groups and Alaska Natives who oppose Willow, arguing that the project will harm the president’s ambitious climate goals and pose health and environmental risks.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded Friday, saying no final decision had been made on the project and that the US Department of the Interior would make an “independent decision on the Willow Project.” ”.
“No final decisions have been made; Anyone who says there has been a final decision is wrong,” Jean-Pierre said. “President Biden is pursuing the most aggressive climate agenda of any US president in history and spurring an unprecedented expansion of clean energy.”
An Interior Department spokesman declined to comment. Dennis Nuss, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips, told CNN that no record of a decision on the Willow project had been shared with the company and he could not comment.
It was not immediately clear whether management had approved a version of the project with three drilling rigs or a smaller version with two drilling rigs. Earlier this month, White House officials had raised the option of a smaller two-drilling rig project to try to address the concern of environmental groups. And in the final weeks and days leading up to the bill’s approval, multiple finished versions of a record of decision circulated among White House and Interior staff, the source said.
White House senior adviser on climate and clean energy deployment John Podesta told CNN on Thursday that the White House climate office has “kept in touch” with the Department of the Interior about the project, but he insisted that the Interior would make the final decision.
Last Friday, Alaska’s congressional delegation met with Biden and senior White House and Interior officials. During the meeting, Alaska lawmakers argued that the oil-drilling project represented a just transition from fossil fuels to clean energy and said it would benefit Alaska Native communities on the remote North Slope, where food and fuel they are incredibly expensive.
“We present our case,” Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan told CNN. “They were in listening mode, for the most part.”
The National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, the federally owned area where the project is planned, contains up to 600 million barrels of oil. By the administration’s own estimates, the Willow project would generate enough oil to release 9.2 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon pollution a year, the equivalent of adding 2 million gasoline-powered cars to the roads.
Alaska Natives who support the project have said it would help bring much-needed jobs and income to the remote region, as well as reduce skyrocketing fuel costs.
Nagruk Harcharek, president of the advocacy group Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, said at a recent press conference that the project had “majority consensus” among Alaska Natives on the North Slope. “We use the jobs that projects like this provide,” Harcharek said. “[They] provide income for families on the North Slope.”
Other Alaska Natives who live closer to the planned project, including city officials and tribal members in Nuiqsut, have said they are deeply concerned about the health and environmental impacts of major oil development so close to their village.
Environmental advocates are expected to challenge the project in court. The environmental law group Earthjustice has been preparing a case against the project; its legal justification includes saying that the Biden administration’s authority to protect surface resources on Alaskan public lands includes taking steps to reduce planet-warming carbon pollution, and arguing that carbon pollution from Willow will ultimately be I would add to that.
“If true, the Biden administration is betraying its core commitment to stop runaway climate change,” Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen said in a statement. “We hope the Biden administration makes the right decision to reject Willow, and if she makes the wrong decision, we pledge to challenge her.”
This story has been updated with additional details.