The United States on March 13 approved the controversial Willow Oil Drilling in Alaska, which has drawn fierce criticism from environmentalists and climate change activists.
In a statement, the US Department of the Interior said that it has approved a scaled-down version of the project. However, nature lovers and environmentalists say that it would still severely impact the climate and wildlife in the region.
Trump administration in 2020 sanctioned the project first, which Joe Biden Administration just gave the nod. However, a federal judge vacated development permits, saying initial federal reviews failed to include measures to mitigate the impact on polar bears.
WHAT IS WILLOW PROJECT?
The controversial Willow project is projected to be the biggest ever oil and gas drilling project on American public lands.
Led by oil giant ConocoPhillips, the Willow Master Development Plan is an $8 billion proposal to drill oil and gas in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve — a 23 million-acre land owned by the federal government of the US.
According to reports, the project would yield more than 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years, a volume nearly 1.5 times the current supply in the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve. ConocoPhillips claims that the plan could generate up to $17 billion for the federal, state and local governments and create as many as 2,500 jobs.
With the sanctioning of the project, ConocoPhillips could have three drill sites and less surface infrastructure than originally proposed. Initially, ConocoPhillips wanted to construct up to five drill sites, many kilometres of long roads, seven bridges and pipelines.
CONCERN AND CRITICISM
Though the authorities claim the sanctioned project is a scaled-down version, environmentalists, nature lovers and climate change activists raise concern about the health and environmental impact of the drilling plan, as it would be constructed on the country’s largest swath of undisturbed, undeveloped land. They believe it would destroy the region’s natural habitat and alter the migration patterns of animals.
Several studies found that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world. In particular, climate change is having truly profound impacts in Alaska. The critics point out that Willow project is a climate disaster in waiting. The Bureau of Land Management has estimated that oil and gas extracted from its recommended version of the Willow project would generate more than 270 million metric tons of CO2 over the project’s lifetime. This happens at a time when the United States urgently needs to move away from fossil fuels.
US DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
In a statement, the Department said that it substantially reduced the size of the project by denying two of the five drill sites proposed by ConocoPhillips, which is seeking to develop oil and gas leases it acquired beginning in the late 1990s. The company will also relinquish rights to approximately 68,000 acres of its existing leases in the NPR-A, including approximately 60,000 acres in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area. The actions will create an additional buffer from exploration and development activities near the calving grounds and migratory routes for the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd, an important subsistence resource for nearby Alaska Native communities. They significantly scale-back the Willow Project within the constraints of valid existing rights under decades-old leases issued by prior Administrations.