Joe Biden approves Willow oil drilling project in Alaska despite criticism

A 2019 aerial photo provided by ConocoPhillips shows an exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project.
The Willow oil project covers Alaska's North Slope region. Credit: AP

Joe Biden has approved a major oil drilling project in Alaska, in a move which environmentalists have criticised as going against the US president's previous campaign pledges.

On Monday, President Biden gave the greenlight for the controversial Willow oil project, in Alaska's petroleum-rich North Slope.

The announcement comes a day after his administration said it would bar or limit drilling in other parts of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean.

Under the Willow oil project, three drill sites will be initially allowed and include around 219 wells.

The project's developer ConocoPhillips, as part of the agreement, will relinquish rights to some 68,000 acres of existing leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

It has justified the decision, saying the project could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day, create as many as 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.

But climate activists have warned the deal will put the US president's climate legacy at risk and break his campaign promise to stop new oil drilling on public lands.

Christy Goldfuss, who is a policy chief at the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), said she was "deeply disappointed" at President Biden's decision to approve the project.

Joe Biden has been criticised by climate activists for his decision. Credit: AP

The NRDC has estimated it will generate planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than one million homes.

She said: "This decision is bad for the climate, bad for the environment and bad for the Native Alaska communities who oppose this and feel their voices were not heard."

Regardless, state lawmakers in Alaska have thrown their backing behind the project and recently met with US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to generate support.

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