Biden Administration Approves ConocoPhillips' $7 Billion Willow Project in Alaska

(Reuters) — The Biden administration is approving a scaled-back version of ConocoPhillips' $7 billion oil and gas drilling project in Alaska, the U.S. Department of Interior said on Monday.

The decision comes despite an aggressive eleventh-hour campaign from opponents who say the development of the three drill sites in northwestern Alaska conflicts with Biden's highly publicized efforts to fight climate change and rapidly shift to cleaner sources of energy.

The fate of the project has been closely watched by Alaska officials, the oil and gas industry and green groups as President Joe Biden seeks to balance his goals of decarbonizing the U.S. economy with calls to increase domestic fuel supplies to keep prices low.

RELATED: ConocoPhillips’ Willow Oil, Gas Drilling Project in Alaska Sparks Green Opposition

ConocoPhillips had sought to build up to five drill sites, dozens of miles of roads, seven bridges and pipelines.

The Interior Department approved the project with three drill pads after saying last month that it was concerned about the greenhouse gas impacts of Willow.

Its Bureau of Land Management last month recommended a "preferred alternative" that includes three drill sites and less surface infrastructure than originally proposed.

The department on Monday said it reduced the size of ConocoPhillips' proposal by 40% by denying two requested drill pads that would reduce the project’s freshwater use and prevent the development of 11 miles of roads, 20 miles of pipelines, and 133 acres of gravel. 

ConocoPhillips and Alaska elected officials endorsed that version of the project, which the agency has said would reduce the impact on habitats for species like polar bears and yellow-billed loons.

The decision comes after the Biden administration on Sunday announced new protections for Alaskan land and water.

It said it would make nearly 3 million acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean "indefinitely off limits" for oil and gas leasing, building on an Obama-era ban and effectively closing off U.S. Arctic waters to oil exploration and issued protections for 13 million acres of "ecologically sensitive" Special Areas within Alaska's petroleum reserve.

Environmental groups criticized the Biden administration, saying it was trying to have it "both way" on climate change.

"Promoting clean energy development is meaningless if we continue to allow corporations to plunder and pollute as they wish,” Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said.

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