The Biden administration on Friday issued a key environmental analysis of ConocoPhillips’ planned $6 billion Willow oil and gas drilling project in Alaska in which it proposed a scaled back version of the development.
The document’s release comes as US President Joe Biden is seeking to balance his administration’s ambitious goals to fight climate change with calls to increase oil and gas supplies in the face of soaring fuel prices.
In the review, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) analyzed five potential options for the project, including not building it at all. The agency selected a reduced “overall gravel footprint” with fewer drill sites as its “preferred alternative.”
That option would reduce the impacts to wildlife such as yellow-billed loons and caribou, BLM said.
The agency said the selection of that alternative did not represent a firm commitment and that it could select a different alternative in its final decision on Willow.
The analysis is being released nearly a year after a federal judge reversed the Trump administration’s approval of the massive development, which Alaskan officials hoped would help offset declining oil production in the state.
“ConocoPhillips and many stakeholders, including residents of the North Slope and across Alaska are committed to the Willow project as it will supply much needed energy for the United States, while serving as a strong example of environmentally and socially responsible development that offers extensive public benefits ,” ConocoPhillips spokesperson Dennis Nuss said in an emailed statement.
In the August order, Alaska District Court Judge Sharon Gleason vacated the BLM’s approval of Willow and said federal agencies must reconsider their environmental analysis.
The agency had failed to consider greenhouse gas emissions from foreign oil consumption in its review, while the US Fish and Wildlife Service did not outline specific measures to mitigate the project’s impact on polar bears, Gleason said in her ruling.
BLM will accept public comment on its proposals for 45 days.
Environmental groups quickly moved to voice their opposition to the project.
“The Biden administration can’t let this monstrosity poison the Arctic,” Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Willow means more oil spills, more toxic pollution and more climate.” ( Reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)