The decision narrows the plan from the five pads that ConocoPhillips originally proposed, but allows company officials to have it. The site was described as large enough for them to move forward and begin construction in a few days.
The high-stakes plan has challenged White House officials, prompting weeks of acrimonious meetings with advocates on both sides of the issue. Willow marks the culmination of the debate over the future of drilling in the Arctic. Environmentalists have made fighting it a priority, and in recent weeks, young activists have launched the #StopWillow TikToc campaign to apply more pressure.
During the 2020 campaign, Biden pledged to ban “new oil and gas permits on public lands and waters,” and environmentalists argued the plan would undermine his lofty climate pledges.
“This is an important place for wildlife,” said John D. Podesta told reporters last week. CERAWeek at the annual Houston Energy Conference. “From the perspective of the president, protecting natural resources, especially in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Special Areas, is a top-of-mind issue.”
On Sunday, the administration announced other new conservation measures in Alaska, including an oil and gas lease in part of the Beaufort Sea. As part of that announcement, the Interior Department said it will write new regulations to protect nearly 13 million acres in NPR-A, including ecologically sensitive areas that provide habitat for thousands of caribou and shorebirds.
A decision to allow three bats will also be taken Hundreds of miles of roads and pipelines allow for construction of airstrips, a gravel mine and a large processing facility on nearby pristine tundra and reserve swamps. Although originally earmarked for oil production more than 100 years ago, only two sites now produce oil — both operated by ConocoPhillips — and expand critical habitat for migrating caribou, waterfowl and other wildlife.
Few drilling projects rival Willow, which ConocoPhillips estimates will operate for the next 30 years, according to energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. The company’s other two projects, Alpine West and Greater Moses’ Tooth, are producing oil from the reserve. The last time the federal government approved such a large operation was eight years ago, when it signed off on BP’s Mad Dog Phase 2 in the Gulf of Mexico.
A UN panel on climate change comprising hundreds of high-level climate and energy experts. The Intergovernmental Panel has said the world must reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of this century to meet its climate goals.
While some in the administration want to block development, ConocoPhillips’ control of federal leases on NPR-A since 1999 gives it a strong position to challenge any federal decision to block its development, legal experts said. Allowing three pads protects the administration from a costly legal battle. It relieves the administration of political fallout from allies in Alaska — the first Democratic elected representative from Alaska since 1972. Others — including Mary Beltola — say the plan will boost the state’s sagging economy.
But environmentalists say the proposed conservation measures won’t compensate for the damage the willow could do to the planet. They pushed the White House to block the plan despite the cost, saying it would undercut Biden’s promise to cut national emissions in half by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
After years of planning and bureaucratic wrangling over the Arctic Reserve, ConocoPhillips initially won approval for Willow in the final year of the Trump administration. The company’s plan involves drilling into the permafrost and building a network of cooling pipes to freeze the area as it warms.
Environmentalists sued, and a federal judge blocked construction permits in 2021 because the government failed to assess how burning oil pulled from the ground would warm the planet. The administration did a new environmental review, which was released last month.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management estimated in that review that willow produces about 9.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Equally Driving nearly 2 million gas-powered cars, or burning nearly 51,000 train cars’ worth of coal. It said ConocoPhillips would have to reduce its development footprint by about 12 percent to protect yellow loon nesting sites and caribou migration routes.
The Interior Department said in a statement last month that it had “significant concerns” about environmental impacts from even that small development. Its leaders were exploring alternatives, which the White House, along with the agency, discussed internally before the final decision.
While Biden’s political base pressured him to reject the proposal, members of the Alaska Congressional delegation mounted an equally vigorous lobbying campaign in favor of it. White House officials Sen. They spent considerable time working with Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has made Willow a primary and occasionally supported the administration in the closely divided Senate.
Dino Grandoni and Sarah Kaplan contributed to this report.