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Biden administration releases draft environmental review for major Alaska oil project

The The Biden administration on Friday released a draft additional environmental review of ConocoPhillips’ giant oil prospect on Alaska’s North Slope, known as the Willow Project, after a federal judge dismissed it last year. project approval issued under the Trump administration.

The announcement drew immediate condemnation from environmental groups, saying moving forward with the project is contrary to the president’s stated goals of tackling climate change. Political leaders in Alaska have pressed the Biden administration to move the project forward, given the project’s potential for oil production, jobs and state revenue.

The environmental review is a step in ConocoPhillips’ efforts to develop the land, though the new eight-volume report offers a range of development alternatives for the public to consider before the Biden administration can make a final decision. on project approval.

Publication of the review will open a 45-day public comment period.

The Willow Project is located in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, west of Prudhoe Bay and close to the Arctic Ocean.

ConocoPhillips has yet to decide whether to fund the project, but the oil company has been studying Willow for years and estimates it will cost $8 billion and create more than 2,000 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs. It is expected to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day for decades.

Conservation groups have fought the project, saying it threatens important habitat for migratory waterfowl, caribou and endangered polar bears, such as at Great Lake Teshekpuk, and will contribute to further global warming. Industry advocates and many Alaskan leaders say the project can help stabilize future oil prices and support the state’s economy after oil flows after years of development.

The Alaska Bureau of Land Management, in a statement Friday, highlighted a new development alternative in the environmental review project that it said would reduce Willow’s potential footprint. The proposal would remove two of the five proposed drill sites from review, including the elimination of the northernmost proposed drill site and associated infrastructure in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Zone.

BLM expects that as part of this alternative, ConocoPhillips will have to give up “significant” lease rights it has acquired in the special area. The proposal includes a possible fourth drilling site, but its approval would require an additional environmental review process under federal law, according to the release.

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The draft review includes an “corrected and expanded analysis of potential climate impacts” associated with the Willow project, the agency said. He seeks to respond to the court’s finding that the original analysis did not consider foreign emissions downstream of Willow’s future oil consumption.

The agency will also consult with groups under the Endangered Species Act regarding listed species, including polar bears, and consider mitigation measures and updates to the range of alternatives.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in an interview Friday that seeing Willow grow is high on her list of priorities for the Biden administration.

“I leaned on them from the very beginning, trying to get them to understand what it means for Alaska, our economy, our jobs, what it means to complete TAPS,” she said, referring to the trans-Alaska pipeline.

She said she would remain in administration to ensure the timeline towards a final decision remains on track. In a statement Friday, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said he too lobbied Biden for the project, saying “he and his team have given me their commitment to fully support Project Willow.” .

“We’re not there yet and we have a long way to go, but this is a step in the right direction for an energy project that is extremely important to Alaska and America,” Sullivan said.

The Wilderness Society condemned the project and said it would add more than 250 million metric tons of greenhouse-producing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the next 30 years, if approved. It would also lead to additional oil development in Alaska, the group said.

“No other oil and gas project has more potential to undermine the Biden administration’s climate goals,” said Karlin Itchoak, the group’s state director. “If this project were to go ahead, it would result in the production and burning of at least 30 years of oil at a time when the world needs climate solutions and a transition to clean energy.”

Conservation groups in 2020 sued to stop the project, saying the agency underestimated the plan’s damage to wildlife, among other factors.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly approved the project.

The Biden administration had backed Project Willow in the deal, a move away from administration efforts to throw roadblocks ahead of other Alaskan resource development efforts, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. .

But the administration and ConocoPhillips declined to appeal Gleason’s decision, leading to the federal government’s additional environmental review process announced in February.

The agency plans to hold in-person public meetings in Utqiagvik, Anchorage and Nuiqsut, as permitted by public health measures, as well as three virtual public meetings, according to the statement.

“A livelihood-related hearing to receive feedback on the potential of the proposed project to impact livelihood resources and activities will also be held in Nuiqsut concurrently with the in-person public meeting,” the agency said. .