Outrage as US government advances $8bn Alaska oil drilling plan | Alaska


The Biden administration has pushed forward an $8 billion drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope. The ConocoPhillips Willow project, which would become one of the largest oil and gas developments on federal land, has faced fierce opposition from environmentalists, who say its approval goes against the president’s ambitious climate goals.

An environmental assessment released Wednesday by the Department of the Interior recommends a scaled-down version of the project originally proposed by ConocoPhillips would produce about 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years, peaking at 180,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Environmental groups and the Nuiqsut Indigenous village, which would be most affected by the project in the northernmost part of Alaska, have opposed the project, which they say would mean the end of a way of life for communities in the rapidly warming Arctic . It would also exacerbate air pollution problems in a region where oil and gas extraction projects are already contributing to an increased incidence of asthma and other health problems.

“Willow is a carbon bomb that shouldn’t explode in the Arctic,” said Karlin Nageak Itchoak, senior regional director of the nonprofit Wilderness Society. The Arctic is already warming almost four times faster than the rest of the world.

“Our indigenous villages are eroding into the sea, thawing permafrost is making infrastructure unsafe and food resources are disappearing,” Itchoak said. “And this project would only exacerbate and accelerate the climate crisis in the Arctic.”

The environmental assessment is a final step toward approval and comes after years of dispute between ConocoPhillips and the government over the company’s right to drill on federal land in the Arctic. Willow would be located in the 93 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the largest piece of undisturbed public land in the United States.

After the project was first approved by the Trump administration, a federal judge reversed the decision, ruling that the environmental assessment was flawed.

This latest assessment from the Bureau of Land Management suggests that a scaled-down Willow project would minimize impacts on vulnerable species, including polar bears, yellow-billed divers and caribou, while remaining consistent with the minimum that ConocoPhillips has said it needs to drill to make the project profitable.

But the Interior Department left open the option of further scaling back or rejecting the project, with a final decision expected within a month.

Officials have “substantial concerns” about even the impact of the scaled back plan on wildlife and native communities in Alaska, the department noted in a separate statement.

“It is outrageous that Biden seems poised to greenlight the massively destructive Willow Project, prioritizing the profits of the oil industry over the future of polar bears and other Arctic wildlife,” said Kristen Monsell, Sr. attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We will continue to fight it until it is scrapped.”

During his election campaign, Biden had pledged to end federal oil and gas drilling and move to renewable energy. But with oil prices rising due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the president is under further pressure to drill more.

Alaska’s two Republican senators and the state’s only congressional representative, a Democrat, have urged the administration to approve the project, which they say would boost the state’s economy. Some Alaska Native tribal governmental organizations, including the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope and the Alaska Federation of Natives, have supported the project for similar reasons.

But environmental groups and tribes, including those in Nuiqsut, have countered that any jobs and money the project will bring in the short term will be wiped out by the environmental devastation it will cause in the long run.

Arctic communities are already on the front lines of global climate chaos. In December, the town of Utqiagvik, on the northern edge of Alaska, peaked warmest temperature ever recorded. Elsewhere in Alaska, a record-breaking 2022 wildfire season and coastal flooding and powerful storms drove communities along the West Coast.

Increased oil and gas extraction in the region has already impacted caribou populations, which several communities in the area hunt for subsistence.

“This project could be a turning point not just for Alaska and the Arctic, but for the entire world,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, director of the Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic, an anti-Willow group. “It will potentially take us to a place where we can come from.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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