Biden administration approves controversial Alaskan oil project

“In requiring compliance with these measures, [Interior] has adopted all practicable means to avoid or minimize environmental harm from the alternative selected and will implement a monitoring and enforcement program for these requirements,” the department said in its record of decision.

Ryan Lance, ConocoPhillips chairman and chief executive officer, called it “the right decision for Alaska and our nation” in a statement.

“Willow fits within the Biden Administration’s priorities on environmental and social justice, facilitating the energy transition and enhancing our energy security, all while creating good union jobs and providing benefits to Alaska Native communities,” Lance said.

The move by the Interior Department represents the latest concession by President Joe Biden to the oil and gas industry and Republican critics who have blamed his climate and energy policies for last year’s spike in energy prices after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But environmental groups have blasted the decision on an oil and gas project that has risen to the status of Keystone XL and other infrastructure plans as a political football.

“This has to stop,” said Kristen Miller, executive director for Alaska Wilderness, an environmental group that has long opposed the project. “There’s no version of this project that doesn’t open the door to 30 years of climate-threatening greenhouse gas emissions.”

The administration defended its decision as a legal necessity, saying that a denial of the leases that Conoco has held in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska for decades would have forced it into a courtroom battle. Shrinking the project to 40 percent of what Conoco had originally asked for was the best option open to the White House, the administration has argued.

“Administration options were limited due to legal constraints – many leases were decades-old, giving company certain valid, existing rights,” the official said before the announcement. “The legal determination was courts would not have allowed outright rejection and could even impose fines on the government.”

The administration over the weekend announced it would stop offering new oil leases in the U.S. waters of the Arctic Ocean and remove 13 million acres from the NPR-A for future leasing consideration.