Political News You Might Have Missed During Break: Biden Approves Willow Project

The Biden Administration recently approved a new oil drilling project in Alaska. A watered down version of the “Willow Project,” spearheaded by firm ConocoPhillips, was approved by Biden last Monday. The day previously, the administration announced that other oil and gas projects in Alaska and the adjacent Arctic Ocean would be limited or blocked. The newly protected area is upwards to thirteen million acres in size.

According to ConocoPhillips, the approved version of the Willow Project has the ability to produce 180,000 barrels of oil daily. The drilling site is located in the National Petroleum Reserve, situated in Alaska’s North Slope.

The National Petroleum Reserve (NPR) is a twenty three million acre area established in 1923 with the original intent of providing emergency oil to the US Navy. It is the largest example of public land, and is managed by the Department of Interior for both exploitation reasons and for habitat protection purposes.

Advocates for the Willow Project and other drilling projects claim that new drilling sites will help in lowering gas prices for American commuters alongside bolstering US national security by making the US less dependent on foreign oil. Neither of these claims are necessarily founded, and as things stand the US is currently the third largest exporter of oil.

The decision drew a strong negative reaction from environmentalists, criticizing Biden for approving the project. On the campaign trail in 2019 and 2020, Biden pledged that “there will be no more drilling on federal lands, period.” Early on in his presidency, Biden blocked the Keystone XL Pipeline, drawing backlash from conservatives.

On March 12, Biden’s administration blocked millions of acres of public land in the NPR from being used for fossil fuel drilling. According to FOX News, “the Department of Interior said it had initiated a rulemaking process to establish maximum protection for thirteen million acres of land across the NPR.”

On Tuesday, Biden announced that he signed a Presidential Memorandum ordering the Secretary of Commerce to “consider designating” nearly 800,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean within US waters as a marine sanctuary.

Biden’s administration has been marked by high energy prices, brought on by supply chains created during the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside decisions by other oil producing and exporting states to cut oil production.