The Biden administration is expected to soon go ahead with a massive oil drilling project in northern Alaska, which is expected to create thousands of jobs and 600 million barrels of oil over its 30-year lifespan, according to multiple reports.
Senior government officials have signed off on three of the five drilling sites proposed by oil company ConocoPhillips as part of the Willow Project at the National Petroleum Reserve in North Slope Borough, Alaska, Bloomberg reported Friday night. ConocoPhillips previously stated that for the project to remain economically viable, the federal government would need to approve at least three of the sites.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) will publish the final decision on the Willow project, but President Biden and senior White House officials were actively involved in overseeing the approval process. Industry groups, Alaska lawmakers and local communities urged the president to approve the project because of its economic benefits, while activists argued it would have a devastating impact on the environment.
“This decision on Willow is a huge test for the Biden administration on so many issues they claim to care about,” Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, told Fox News Digital in an interview last week. “Of course it’s critical for Alaska, but it’s critical for America — a project of this magnitude when we need energy security.”
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Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visits Granada, Colorado, on February 19, 2022. (Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
The expected final record of the decision comes years after ConocoPhillips first proposed the project. The company has projected it would produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day, create more than 2,500 construction jobs and 300 long-term jobs, and generate as much as $17 billion in revenue for the federal government, Alaska and local communities . that are indigenous.
ConocoPhillips Alaska said last month that the project — which was originally approved under the Trump administration before a federal judge ordered the government to conduct a more rigorous environmental review — would “benefit local communities and improve U.S. energy security.”
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In total, the project involves the construction of up to 250 wells, multiple pipelines, a central processing plant, an airport and a gravel mine. Opponents of the project said Willow would harm the environment — due to both its construction and oil drilling emissions — and create an overall carbon footprint that is incompatible with the Biden administration’s broader climate agenda.
“The Willow Project is a climate disaster waiting to happen that will devastate wildlife, land, AK communities and our climate,” the Sierra Club tweeted Friday. “We need to accelerate our clean energy transition, not double down on oil and gas.”
Climate activists hold a demonstration on November 17 in Washington, D.C. to urge President Biden to reject the Willow project at the Interior Department headquarters (Jemal Gravin/Getty Images for Sunrise AU)
In addition to environmental groups, climate-focused Democratic legislators have the same urged Biden not to hand over a favorable decision for the project, which also said it would increase global emissions and counteract the progress the administration has made on climate change. It is estimated to produce 278 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions over its 30-year lifespan, the equivalent of the carbon footprint of two million cars.
“If this story is true, it is a complete betrayal of Biden’s pledge not to allow more drilling and a complete catastrophe to contain climate chaos,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore, tweeted Friday after the reports. “You can’t ask other countries to forego their fossil fuels if we’re holding greenlighting projects here in America.”
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Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, said in February that Willow is the “exact opposite of what the Biden administration stands for.”
The project has also sparked a major opposition campaign on social media, with millions of users calling on Biden to block it.
As of Friday, two Change.org petitions urging Biden to “say no” to the Willow project had received more than four million signatures. And the hashtag #StopWillow has gone viral on social media, with over 650 million impressions across platforms.
Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and other members of his state’s congressional delegation have been outspoken supporters of the Willow Project. (Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images)
Sen. However, Sullivan and his fellow members of the state’s congressional delegation — Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola — have been aggressively advocating for the Biden administration to pass an economically viable proposal for the project in recent months. They have argued that it would provide a substantial boost to the state and local communities.
The delegation met with Biden at the White House on March 2 for more than an hour to reiterate their support for an economically viable endorsement.
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“The Willow Project has been one of my top priorities because it is of great importance to our future as a state,” Peltola said. “In the short term, this project will create thousands of well-paid union jobs and jump-start Alaska’s economy.”
“In the long run, Willow’s revenues will pay for essential government services, such as public safety and investments in our education system.”
A lone oil barrel is pictured near the Kokalik River, which meanders through the National Petroleum Reserve in northern Alaska. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images) (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
The Willow Project has received support from Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy, Alaska Native communities, labor unions, North Slope Borough leaders, and the Alaska Federation of Natives. The Alaska legislature passed a unanimous bipartisan resolution in support of the project.
On Feb. 1, DOI sub-agency Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its supplemental environmental impact statement for the project. The analysis highlighted the large amount of emissions expected to be produced by the project, but showed that switching to foreign oil imports rather than the project’s output would result in an even larger carbon footprint.
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The BLM eventually identified a preferred alternative of three drilling sites in the statement, but noted that a final decision could postpone some of the sites.
Then, in an unusual move, the DOI issued a statement that it had “significant concerns about the Willow project and the preferred alternative as presented” in the environmental analysis shortly after BLM released it.
The DOI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Thomas Catenacci is a political writer for Fox News Digital.