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Biden Set To Approve Controversial Willow Oil Project in Alaska

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The Biden administration is approving the controversial major Willow oil project on Alaska’s petroleum-rich North Slope, according to two people familiar with the decision.

The decision being announced Monday is one of President Joe Biden’s most consequential climate choices and is likely to draw condemnation from environmentalists who say it flies in the face of the Democratic president’s pledges.

Biden’s plan would allow three drill sites initially, the sources said, which project developer ConocoPhillips has said would include about 219 total wells. The company has said it considers that option workable. ConocoPhillips will relinquish rights to about 68,000 acres of existing leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, two of the sources said.

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The sources have direct knowledge of the administration’s plan but did not want to be identified before an official announcement.

Climate activists have been outraged that Biden appeared open to greenlighting the project, which they said put Biden’s climate legacy at risk. Allowing oil company ConocoPhillips to move forward with the drilling plan also would break Biden’s campaign promise to stop new oil drilling on public lands, they say.

The administration’s decision is not likely to be the last word, with litigation expected regardless of the outcome.

ConocoPhillips Alaska’s Willow project could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day, create up to 2,500 jobs during construction and 300 long-term jobs, and generate billions of dollars in royalties and tax revenues for the federal, state and local governments, the company says.

Read more: The Melting Arctic Could Destroy Indigenous Ways of Life While Making Some Alaskans Rich

The project, located in the federally designated National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, enjoys widespread political support in the state. Alaska Native state lawmakers recently met with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to urge support for Willow.

But environmental activists have promoted a #StopWillow campaign on social media, seeking to remind Biden of his pledges to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy.

The administration’s decision comes after the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as part of an environmental review, advanced in February a development option calling for up to three drill sites initially, which it said would include about 219 total wells. ConocoPhillips Alaska said it considered that option workable.

Alaska’s Republican U.S. senators warned any further limits could kill the project, rendering it uneconomic.

But the land management agency noted the final decision might look different, and the U.S. Interior Department said it had “substantial concerns” about the project and the option the agency advanced, “including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence.”

Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation met with Biden and his advisers in early March to plead their case for the project, while environmental groups rallied opposition and urged project opponents to place pressure on the administration.

The administration’s decision is not likely to be the last word, with litigation expected regardless of the outcome.

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