By Nichola Groom and Maria Caspani
(Reuters) – The administration of US President Joe Biden will approve a major and controversial oil drilling project in Alaska on Monday, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The decision to go ahead with the project by authorizing three drilling sites in northwest Alaska would come a day after Biden announced sweeping restrictions on oil and gas leasing to protect up to 16 million acres of water and land in the region.
The Willow Project, led by energy giant ConocoPhillips, would be located in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a 23 million-acre (93 million hectare) area on the state’s North Slope, the largest stretch of undisturbed public land in the United States . States.
Earlier on Sunday, the U.S. Department of the Interior revealed actions to make nearly 3 million acres of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Sea “indefinitely off limits” to oil and gas leasing, building on an Obama-era ban and effectively closing the US Arctic waters to oil exploration.
In addition to the drilling ban, the government will propose new protections for more than 13 million acres of “environmentally sensitive” special areas within Alaska’s petroleum reserve, the government said in a statement on Sunday.
The area includes Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Highlands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay Special Areas.
Developments unfolded as Biden tries to balance his goals of decarbonising the US economy with calls to increase domestic fuel supplies to keep prices low.
Willow has the support of the oil and gas industry and government officials eager to work, but is fiercely opposed by environmental groups who want to quickly move away from fossil fuels to combat climate change.
An environmental group said the new protection measures announced on Sunday do not go far enough and the government must halt oil and gas developments to help fight climate change.
“Protecting one area of the Arctic so you can destroy another area is pointless, and it won’t help the people and wildlife that will be turned upside down by the Willow Project,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological. diversity.
(Reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles and Maria Caspani in New York; additional reporting by Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru; Writing by Maria Caspani; editing by Sonali Paul and Stephen Coates)