JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Biden administration’s approval earlier this week for the largest new oil project in years on Alaska’s oil-rich North Slope was immediately met with lawsuits attempting to halt the Willow project.
Lawsuits filed by environmental groups and an Alaska Native organization seek to overturn permits granted Monday for three drill sites and a total of up to 199 wells for the ConocoPhillips Alaska project. The lawsuits allege that the US government failed to adequately consider alternatives to green lighting the development.
WHAT IS THE WILLOW PROJECT?
The 30-year project could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day. That matters because Alaska’s economic fortunes are tied to oil’s boom-and-bust cycles. Oil flow through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is now only a fraction of what it was at its peak in the late 1980s.
Willow is also currently the largest proposed oil project on state land.
WHERE IS WILLOW?
Willow is located on Alaska’s remote North Slope about 600 miles (966 kilometers) north of Anchorage.
It’s in something called the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which was originally intended as an emergency oil supply for the US Navy a century ago. The area has been patrolled by the US Department of the Interior since the 1970s and there has been debate as to where development should take place. The Biden administration last year restricted oil and gas leasing to just over half of the states on the nearly 23 million-acre reservation.
US Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska has repeatedly argued that oil and gas can be expected to be developed in the reserve, emphasizing the name – Petroleum Reserve.
However, environmentalists say the vast region is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including polar and brown bears, musk oxen, caribou and millions of migratory birds. They say the Home Secretary must act to protect and conserve wildlife and other resources on the reserve if oil and gas activity takes place.
WHY IS WILLOW CONTROVERSIAL?
Environmental groups see the Willow project’s approval as a betrayal of President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign promise to end new oil and gas drilling on federal land. They say it’s not in line with Biden’s goals to cut carbon emissions and switch to clean energy.
Using the oil that Willow would produce over a 30-year period would release about as much greenhouse gas emissions as the combined emissions of 1.7 million passenger cars over the same period. White House officials said the project will not prevent the US from meeting Biden’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Many Alaska Natives say they support the Willow Project because it will bring jobs and money to their communities. But some oppose it, concerned about the impact on health, climate and caribou.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland opposed Willow as a congressman from New Mexico before becoming Secretary of the Interior. She said this week that Willow is a “difficult and complex issue” affecting leases from previous administrations, and that the Biden administration has focused on reducing the project’s footprint and impact on people and wildlife.
Willow’s approval also required ConocoPhillips Alaska to relinquish rights to approximately 68,000 acres of existing leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
ConocoPhillips Alaska has signaled it’s ready to move forward. According to the company, it intends to start construction of the gravel road immediately.
However, lawsuits to halt the project are pending in an Alaskan federal court and could delay activities.
Source : www.boston.com