Fossil Energy – Offshore Alaska
The Biden administration has decided to insulate the Arctic from future oil and gas leasing, but the announcement comes parallel to the US Department of the Interior (DOI) approving ConocoPhillips’ behemoth Willow development offshore Alaska.
When it comes online in 2029, Willow is expected to produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak and about 600M barrels of oil equivalent over the life of the project.
The Biden administration has said it had few legal options in the Willow development as ConocoPhillips has held some of the leases for decades. Negotiations with the company have yielded a few concessions, namely reducing the drilling sites from five to three sites. And as part of the reduced plan, DOI said ConocoPhillips will have to relinquish 68,000 acres of its existing leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).
Project approval has been met with dismay from indigenous communities and environmental groups. Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic (SILA) condemned the approval and pointed out the DOI record of decision itself admits effects on public health in the area “may be highly adverse and disproportionately borne by the Nuiqsut population.”
SILA and several other environmental groups including the Sierra Club have filed a lawsuit in the US District Court of Alaska to scrap the approval. The lawsuit charges the DOI, the US Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service with violating their respective duties under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
A federal oil and gas lease sale has not been held in the Arctic Ocean since 2007, and the DOI said it will initiate a rulemaking to move forward with further protections.
The DOI has announced it is preparing new rules to provide protection to millions of acres of lands in the western Arctic against drilling. Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the administration is withdrawing approximately 2.8M acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean nearshore in the NPR-A as indefinitely off limits for future oil and gas leasing. The White House also plans to overhaul management of the NPR-A.