Alaska: As Biden weighs project, he blocks other oil drilling

By Chris Megerian, and Matthew Daly | The Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. >> As President Joe Biden prepares a final decision on the huge Willow oil project in Alaska, his administration announced he will prevent or limit oil drilling in 16million acres in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean.

Plans announced Sunday night will bar drilling in nearly 3 million acres of the Beaufort Sea— closing it off from oil exploration — and limit drilling in more than 13 million acres in a vast swath of land known as the National Petroleum Reserve — Alaska.

An exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project is seen on Alaska’s North Slope in 2019. President Joe Biden will prevent or limit oil drilling in 16million acres of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean, an administration official said on Sunday. CONOCO PHILLIPS VIA AP

The moves come as regulators prepare to announce a final decision on the $8 billion Willow project, a controversial oil drilling plan pushed by ConocoPhillips in the petroleum reserve.  Climate activists have rallied against the project, calling it a “carbon bomb” that would be a betrayal of Biden’s campaign pledges to curb new oil and gas drilling.

Meanwhile, Alaska lawmakers, unions and indigenous communities have pressured Biden to approve the project, saying it would bring much-needed jobs and billions of dollars in taxes and mitigation funds to the vast, snow- and ice-covered region nearly 600 miles from Anchorage. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, called Willow “one of the biggest, most important resource development projects in our state’s history.”

Biden’s decision on Willow will be one of his most consequential climate decisions and comes as he gears up for a likely reelection bid in 2024. A decision to approve Willow risksalienating young voters who have urged stronger climate action by the White House andflooded social media with demands to stop the Willow project. Approval also could sparkprotests similar to those against the failed Keystone XL oil pipeline during the Obamaadministration.

Rejection of the project would meet strong resistance from Alaska’s bipartisan congressionaldelegation, which met with top officials at the White House in recent days to lobby for theproject. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who provided key support to confirm InteriorSecretary Deb Haaland, said it was no secret she has cooperated with the White House on arange of issues.

“Cooperation goes both ways,” she told reporters.

Haaland, who fought the Willow project as a member of Congress, has the final decision onwhether to approve it, although top White House climate officials are likely to be involved,with input from Biden himself. The White House said no final decision on Willow has beenreached.

Under the conservation plan announced Sunday, Biden will bar drilling in nearly 3 millionacres of the Arctic Ocean, and impose new protections in the petroleum reserve.

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