Even as he approves Willow oil project, Biden puts limits on Arctic Ocean drilling


President Biden will announce sweeping protections for more than 16 million acres of land and water in Alaska on Monday as he prepares to approve a massive oil drilling project that has drawn sharp criticism from climate activists and young voters.

The Interior Department announced Sunday that the president will announce limits on Arctic Ocean oil and gas leasing. The department will write new regulations protecting nearly 13 million acres of national petroleum reserves in Alaska, the nation’s largest public land, including ecologically sensitive areas that provide habitat for thousands of caribou and shorebirds.

The administration’s push to implement new environmental protection laws in Alaska is poised to approve ConocoPhillips’ multibillion-dollar Willow project on Alaska’s North Slope on Monday, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity. Personal discussions. Biden’s attempt to close the spigot on future drilling in the region underscores the challenge for the president, even as he prepares to approve a measure that could produce 576 million to 614 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years. Most Popular Climate Destinations

The conservation measures seem like an olive branch to environmentalists and young voters who have blasted Willow’s endorsement as incompatible with the president’s ambitious climate goals. Approval of the project near the town of Nuiqsut would allow construction of hundreds of miles of roads and pipelines, airstrips, a gravel mine and processing facility.

The White House did not announce Sunday whether it would approve ConocoPhillips’ plan to build an operation that would cost between $8 billion and $10 billion. White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre insisted on Friday that no final decision had been made on the plan.

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Instead, administration officials insisted that measures be taken to limit future growth. Biden will use his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Act to withdraw about 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean from future oil and gas leases, the statement said. The withdrawal follows President Barack Obama’s decision to temporarily halt exploration off the Alaskan coast in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

The new protections on land will extend to Teshekbuk Lake and Udukok Uplands, the Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Bird Bay Special Areas, the executive said. They cover more than 3 million acres in the Arctic Ocean.

The area around Nuiqsut (pronounced noo-IK-sut) is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth. Its average temperature has risen 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — more than three times the global average, according to a Washington Post analysis of temperature data.

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Melting permafrost has created the 22-mile-wide Deshekbook Lake, located 70 miles west of Nuixut. Along with polar bears and other species, the lake is home to thousands of migratory caribou and about 600,000 shorebirds and more than 78,000 mallards.

The move to drill bark in the Arctic Ocean comes despite little industrial interest in the region. Several major oil companies have pulled out of the region in recent years, citing economic interference.

In September 2015, Royal Dutch Shell announced that it would suspend its drilling in the Alaskan Arctic indefinitely after finding enough oil and gas in one of its exploratory wells. Two months later, Norwegian oil major Statoil said it was exiting 16 leases under its own operation, as well as its stake in 50 leases under ConocoPhillips’ operations.

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Dan Pickering, founder and chief investment officer of Pickering Energy Partners, said when management said it was taking Arctic drilling off the table, “I don’t know how realistically these things were on the table in the first place. “

However, a top oil industry attorney in Washington said last week that oil companies would be concerned if Biden banned drilling in the Arctic even if he endorsed Willow.

“We’re not going to be here for a one-to-one exchange,” American Petroleum Corp. President Mike Sommers said in an interview at the Seraweek Energy Conference in Houston. “I mean, we want to continue to grow in Alaska.” And Alaskans, including native communities, love it, too.

In recent weeks, Biden administration officials have suggested to environmentalists that approval of the Willow Project could be tied to new conservation measures in Alaska, but their proposals have largely failed to win over leading green groups. On Sunday, the leaders of at least two environmental groups told The Washington Post that the new safeguards were not an acceptable compromise.

said Abigail Dillon, president of environmental law firm Earthjustice.

said Jamal Rath, co-founder and senior adviser at the climate group Evergreen Action. “This is in no way, shape or form denying or discounting the climate impacts of the Willow project.”

Top White House climate adviser John D. Podesta declined Thursday.

“I don’t think we’ve ever negotiated with environmental groups,” Podesta told reporters on the sidelines of an event hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy.

While environmentalists urged the administration to reject Willow, Alaska lawmakers and oil industry groups have pressed officials to approve the plan, saying it would provide much-needed oil and cash to the region. Alaska’s economy is heavily dependent on drilling revenue, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is pressuring global oil markets.

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Kevin Book, managing director of research firm ClearView Energy Partners, said the war in Ukraine has forced Biden to make tough choices about the future of fossil fuels, despite his promise on the campaign trail to “divest from the oil industry.”

“It’s a very uncomfortable place to straddle the line between campaign promises and energy warfare,” he said.

Timothy Buco contributed to this report.

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