President Biden is planning to approve an $8 billion oil drilling project on federal land on Alaska’s North Slope next week, according to multiple reports.
His expected authorization of ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project, the largest proposed oil project in the country, would be a marked change from his previous insistence that the US transition away from fossil fuels.
The Willow Project aims to drill for oil on three sites inside the 23-million acre National Petroleum Reserve, located 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
The expanse of land where the project is planned holds an estimated 600 million barrels of oil that could be pumped out over 30 years – nearly double the amount of barrels the government has stockpiled in its Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The Biden administration estimates that oil generated by the Willow Project would release 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere per year.
The project has the backing of Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation and from a majority of Alaska Natives who live on the North Slope.
The tribes herald the project as a possible source of much-needed revenue and jobs for the region.
Biden, 80, who last year pushed through a $369 billion package of environmental projects, including subsidies for electric vehicles, has so far during his presidency largely stood in the way of oil-related projects.
His administration has blocked the construction of oil pipelines and new drilling projects, and the president has forecast the near-term end of US reliance on oil as an energy source.
“We’re gonna still need oil for the next 10 to 15 years,” Biden conceded during a speech Friday, echoing his remarks during his State of the Union address last month, when he said that “we’re going to need oil for at least another decade.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre pushed back on reports Friday that the administration is ready to greenlight the Willow Project, telling CNN that no final decision had been made, and that the Department of the Interior would make an “independent decision on the Willow Project.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a strong supporter of the drilling plan, was also wary of reports that it was all-but formally approved.
“We are not celebrating yet, not with this White House,” she told the New York Times Friday.