Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics
newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.
Leave your feedback
The Biden administration officially approved a controversial oil drilling project in Alaska known as Willow. It is expected to produce some 600 million barrels of crude oil over the next three decades. Supporters hail the energy and jobs it would create while opponents say it would accelerate emissions and the climate crisis. Liz Ruskin of Alaska Public Media joined Amna Nawaz to discuss.
The Biden administration has officially approved a controversial oil drilling project in Alaska known as Willow.
The project from oil giant ConocoPhillips is expected to produce some 600 million barrels of crude oil over the next three decades. Supporters hail the energy and jobs it would create in Alaska. Opponents have said it would dangerously accelerate emissions and the climate crisis. The administration's decision comes after it announced a limit on oil drilling across 16 million acres in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean.
For a closer look at this, I'm joined by Liz Ruskin, Washington correspondent for Alaska Public Media.
Liz, welcome and thanks for joining us.
So, the administration did approve this Willow project, but not the entire project. Explain that to us. What did they decide?
Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media:
The administration approved three drilling pads with this — it comes to about 219 wells.
ConocoPhillips originally asked for five drilling pads and about 250 wells. So this is slightly less, but basically in ConocoPhillips' favor.
So the Biden administration's decision has been met with a lot of support from people across Alaska, including Senator Lisa Murkowski.
She tweeted this, saying — quote — "We did it, Alaska. What a huge and needed victory for all Alaska."
Liz, when you look at folks on the ground there, who else has been pushing for this project to be green-lit, and why?
Oh, pretty much the whole Alaska political and business establishment, the entire legislature, the whole congressional delegation, including Alaska's new congresswoman, Mary Peltola, a Democrat. Organized labor supports it, Alaska Native leaders.
The oil industry has been on decline in Alaska for a long time. And this project would bring up to $10 billion to the state and local governments. People on the North Slope, they are primarily indigenous. They say oil revenues will help sustain them and their Inupiaq culture.
Of course, we have seen environmentalists have been fighting this the entire way. After the decision, an official from the National Resources Defense Council called this — quote — "a grievous mistake" that — quote — "green-lights a carbon bomb, sets back the climate fight and emboldens an industry hell-bent on destroying the planet."
Liz, tell us a bit about the opposition to this project. Are any of them seeing this scaled-back approval as a welcome compromise?
The scaled-back approval was entirely expected, in part because the federal agencies had recommended three drilling pads.
So, this was not a surprise. Against this project are a lot of environmental groups, climate activists and a lot of young voters who have really stepped up the pressure on social media in recent weeks really quite quickly. And, also, the city and tribe of Nuiqsut, the community closest to where the drilling would be, while the North Slope as a whole supports the Willow project, the community closest to where the drilling would be, they have significant opposition.
This is the president who promised to move away from oil, to not allow any oil drilling on federal lands. How is the White House responding to that criticism?
Well, they pointed out that ConocoPhillips has had these leases since 1999. So, this isn't new leasing on federal land. These are old leases.
And when a company has leases, they have — the government can't take those away without compensation of some kind. So, the White House says that they didn't have free rein to do whatever they wanted here.
Liz, is there a legal challenge ahead? We have heard from some of these environmental groups that they will continue to fight this Willow project. What should we expect to see next?
Oh, we absolutely — everyone expects there to be another legal challenge. There's already been one, which is why this is a reapproval.
But everyone expects there to be another lawsuit filed shortly.
OK, that is Liz Ruskin, Washington correspondent for Alaska Public Media.
Liz, thank you for your time.
Watch the Full Episode
Amna Nawaz serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour.
Courtney Norris is the deputy senior producer of national affairs for the NewsHour. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @courtneyknorris
Support Provided By: