On Monday, US President Joe Biden approved a huge new oil drilling project in Alaska. The move has pleased some people in Alaska. But it has upset many others, who say the project will hurt the environment and slow the fight against climate change.
The project is located in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A), a 35,900 square mile (93,000 square kilometer) area on Alaska’s “North Slope” that was set aside for oil drilling over 100 years ago. It’s the largest area in the US that hasn’t been disturbed.
The North Slope area is home to many animals, including grizzly bears, polar bears, caribou, and, depending on the season, hundreds of thousands of migrating birds.
The new project, called “Willow”, would be the largest oil project in Alaska in decades. The project is being run by ConocoPhillips, one of the world’s largest oil companies.
Willow is a 30-year project spread out over three different areas. The company plans to drill up to 199 wells, which will require a lot of construction and drilling equipment, and miles and miles of roads and pipelines.
Most politicians and many workers in Alaska are excited about the project because of the money and jobs it will bring. ConocoPhillips says Willow will create 300 jobs and bring in up to $17 billion for US, state, and local governments.
But many people are very upset that the project has been approved. They believe the oil project will be a disaster for such an important natural area.
The local environment is only part of the concern. For many, producing fossil fuels while the world is fighting the climate crisis is a bigger concern.
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The Willow project is expected to produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day. At that rate, the project could create over 10.1 million tons (9.2 million metric tons) of carbon emissions every year. That’s about as much pollution as 2 million gas-powered cars create in a year of driving.
As president, Mr. Biden has made great efforts to tackle the climate crisis, so the decision has come as a shock to many.
The government tried to soften the blow on Sunday by announcing greater protection against drilling in Alaska. It banned drilling from about 4,700 square miles (12,000 square kilometers) in the Beaufort Sea. It also put new limits on drilling in over 20,000 square miles (52,600 square kilometers) of NPR-A.
Mr. Biden’s government also made the Willow project smaller. ConocoPhillips originally asked for a much larger project, with drilling in five different areas, instead of three.
But for many people, those actions don’t make up for approving the Willow project. Millions of people have encouraged Mr. Biden to block the Willow project, which they see as “bad for the climate, bad for the environment”.
But Mr. Biden’s government believes if he had blocked Willow, the country’s courts would have forced the US to allow the project to go ahead anyway.
The courts are still likely to be involved. Groups opposed to the project are now expected to go to court to try to stop the Willow project.
Did You Know…?
Part of the decision to support the Willow project was also political. Alaska’s senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, are both Republicans who have worked with Mr. Biden in many areas. If he had blocked the Willow project, both senators would be far less likely to support Mr. Biden’s other ideas in the future.