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President Biden accused of ignoring the climate crisis, as he approves an oil and gas project in the Arctic

President Biden accused of ignoring the climate crisis, as he approves an oil and gas project in the Arctic

An oil drilling rig in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Photo credit: Reuters / Lucas Jackson.

By Anders Lorenzen

On Monday, US president Joe Biden approved the controversial $7 billion oil and gas drilling Willow project in the Alaskan Arctic.

The US government said the approval was a scaled-back version of ConocoPhillips’ original proposal.  But this is unlikely to please climate advocates who argue that the development, which includes three drilling sites, is at odds with Biden’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis in which renewable energy production plays a crucial part.

Officials in Alaska have celebrated the decision, on the grounds that it will create hundreds of jobs and bring billions of dollars in revenue to the state. The remote state in the far northern corner of the US relies heavily on oil production, but since the 1980s, production volumes have gradually declined.

A balancing act

Analysts are saying that the US president is trying to balance two important goals, 1) decarbonising the US economy and 2) restoring US leadership on climate change, while also increasing domestic fuel supplies and job creation.

But nevertheless, the project has also attracted criticism from the UN, who believe it is an example of the kind of project that moves the world in the wrong direction.

But the US government believes the approval represents a compromise solution, scaled back from the original five to three drill pads. This raised concerns about the CO2 emissions of the project. The Interior Department said that the scaled-back version would reduce the impact on polar bears and yellow-billed loons. 

In addition, the Biden Administration also announced, what they presented as, “sweeping new protections for undisturbed Alaskan lands and waters”. These would keep nearly three million acres of the Beaufort Sea off limits indefinitely for oil and gas leasing, and would effectively close the door to oil exploration in the US Arctic waters.

Green groups have opposed the project. They accuse the US government of hypocrisy. saying you can’t have it both ways on climate change. The groups argue that it is meaningless to promote clean energy development if we keep approving new fossil fuel projects. And they have threatened to challenge the project in court.

It is estimated that the project could deliver 180,000 barrels of oil per day which would be transported via the Trans Alaska Pipeline.

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