In spite of climate goals and widespread outcry from environmentalists, president Joe Biden's administration has gone ahead and approved the controversial, $8 billion ConocoPhillips Willow oil drilling project in Alaska.
Set to be one of the largest projects of its kind, ConocoPhillips, the largest producer of crude oil in the state, will see an initial three drill sites constructed on the federally owned National Petroleum Reserve, a massive 23 million acre stretch of land in Alaska's North Slope.
The New York Times reports that the decision was made after the Biden administration concluded it did not have the legal authority to block the project since ConocoPhillips possessed a longstanding lease on land on the reserve.
Altogether, it's estimated that the project will yield close to 600 million barrels of oil over three decades, and add up to another 180,000 barrels produced per day to the US's already monstrous daily tally of around 19 million.
By the US Bureau of Land Management's own estimates cited by the BBC, this project alone will produce 278 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2, the equivalent of adding two million gas-guzzling cars to the road each year, for thirty years.
Understandably, climate activists and environmentalists are outraged at the approval of Willow, with #StopWillow trending on social media, not least of all because the Biden administration insultingly promised only a day before that it would place feeble limits on drilling in Alaska and the Arctic ocean.
For the former location, that meant merely reducing the original five drill sites in the Willow project to three.
But in the big picture, critics argue that the oil project flies in the face of the administration's climate pledges and extant international obligations the US had agreed to.
One of the most notable pledges would be the administration's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 — an already incredibly difficult achievement to aspire to without adding a massive oil project to the equation.
According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress (CAP), the Willow project will also undo most, if not all, the gains made by Biden's pledge to deploy more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind. Using those, CAP estimates, would save some 129 MMT of CO2 being emitted.
Clearly, that's now outweighed by the government's estimated 278 MMT of emissions resulting from the Willow Project.
"Put another way," CAP wrote, "allowing the Willow project to proceed would result in double the carbon pollution that all renewable progress on public lands and waters would save by 2030."
Its impact locally can't be overlooked, either. Some of the indigenous Iñupiat population and the mayor of the nearby village of Nuiqsut, which is closest to the proposed drill site, remain in opposition, though other indigenous communities support it.
One Iñupiat activist Sonny Ahk, who authored a Change.org petition against the project with over three million signatures, told the BBC that the Willow project would "lock in Arctic oil and gas extraction for another 30 years and catalyze future oil expansion in the Arctic."
There remains some hope for the climate-conscious, however. According to the Associated Press, we can expect litigation from environmental groups, so the Willow Project's go-ahead isn't quite a foregone conclusion yet, especially since the project was already halted once before by a federal judge.
More on the environment: The Ocean's Plastic Pollution Has Spiked to "Unprecedented" Levels
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