The Biden administration’s approval of the Willow oil and gas project on Alaska’s North Slope could commit the US to a 30-year project that will produce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 1.7 million passenger cars each year.
The lengthy commitment has rankled environmental groups, who see the project as a broken promise and at the same time invest decades in fossil fuels, scientists warn that global emissions must decline rapidly. .
“President Biden’s decision to endorse Willow betrays his campaign promises and the millions of young voters who support him,” Aditi Lele, policy director of the youth-led activist organization Zero Hour, said in a statement. “Drilling for new oil and gas is disproportionate with the magnitude of the crisis we face.”
The decision about the project, which has become the subject of growing backlash on social media in recent months, almost single-handedly raises the question of whether the Biden administration’s broader climate efforts will meet goals set by international organizations that are seen as essential. is seen. Avoid the worst consequences of climate change. It also shows how geopolitical forces are challenging the administration’s ability to abruptly move away from fossil fuels.
Kristen Miller, executive director of the nonprofit Alaska Wilderness League, said greening the oil and gas venture runs contrary to the aggressive action needed to reduce emissions.
“This decision is a huge step forward,” she said. “The way we manage our public lands for oil and gas is a critical part of the way we address the climate crisis, and America’s Arctic should be the number one place where it is addressed. “
The decision grants oil producer ConocoPhillips access to three drilling sites on federal land for nearly 200 wells, according to a decision document from the Bureau of Land Management, part of the Interior Department. The document states that over the life of the project, the federal government expects the company to produce approximately 576 million barrels of oil, which, if burned, would produce the equivalent of approximately 239 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution.
“When it’s done it’s going to be one of the biggest projects in the United States,” said Michael Lazarus, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute US. emissions produced in the state of Washington each year.
There is also concern that the Willow project may be just the beginning. The construction of oil facilities and roads in that part of Alaska’s North Slope paved the way for future projects.
“The development of this project will create a good amount of infrastructure in a remote part of Alaska,” said Michael Berger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, “making additional drilling projects more feasible.”
The Biden administration aims to reduce carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030 from 2005 levels. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – a goal of the Paris Agreement – scientists at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say global emissions must peak before 2025 and be reduced by 43% by 2030.
The Biden administration said it reduced the size of the project by rejecting two of the five proposed drilling sites, and a source familiar with the decision said the White House did not believe it could legally prevent the project from moving forward. can stop
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the administration believes it can still meet its climate goals.
Lazarus said that A decision to allow the project to proceed could hinder the administration’s goals and it The government’s commitment to new fossil fuel infrastructure is an example of more than global climate agreements, a trend his organization documents in an annual report.