Reports: Biden poised to approve AK oil drilling project opposed by environmentalists

March 12, 2023

Reports began swirling last week that the Biden administration is poised to put its stamp of approval on a substantial oil drilling project in northern Alaska, according to Fox News, in a move that would surely be viewed by the president's environmentalist allies as an abandonment and a betrayal.

Despite the likely outrage on the part of the environmental lobby, the venture has been predicted to yield thousands of new jobs and approximately 600 million barrels of oil across its projected lifespan.

Imminent approval expected

As Fox News notes, Biden administration officials have already given the green light to three of five sites proposed by ConocoPhillips for what is known as the company's Willow Project, a threshold company executives previously indicated would need to be met in order for the endeavor to be economically viable.

The project would be situated on federal lands that are part of the National Petroleum Reserve in North Slope Borough, Alaska, and the company, an area environmental advocates do not believe should be used for the type of drilling anticipated.

Though the Department of Interior's (DOI) final decision on the Willow Project has yet to be announced, reports suggest that senior administration officials have taken an active role in deliberations.

The White House has received input from energy industry groups, local communities in Alaska, as well as lawmakers from the state, all of whom support the project's approval, though environmental activists have remained steadfast in their opposition.

Risky move to the center?

According to Politico, if Biden were to approve the Willow Project, it would widely be seen as a shrewd move to the political center ahead of an expected bid for re-election.

The overall effect of that, the outlet suggests, would be to endanger Biden's support among climate crusaders necessary to his prospects for 2024.

Jamal Raad of Evergreen Action told Politico, “It will be harder for us and climate activists to rally around this president come next year” and said that such a decision would take away from Biden's prior achievements in the area of green policy contained in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Speculation of Biden's imminent approval of the project also drew the ire of Tiernan Sittenfeld of the League of Conservation Voters, who said, “To us, it all sucks because it flies in the face of meeting our climate goals. So, we're going to keep fighting until there is a final record of decision.”

White House issues denial

Though news of the project's impending approval was reported by numerous outlets on Friday, the White House went out of its way to deny that any official decision has been made, as The Hill noted.

Following the aforementioned reports on the inevitability of approval, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted that “no final decisions have been made” and declared that “anyone who says there has been a final decision is wrong.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) suggested that while it is her impression that a decision is imminent, she has not heard final word one way or another, adding, “we are not celebrating yet.”

Whether Biden rolls the dice in terms of alienating a noteworthy block of his progressive voter base by approving the ConocoPhillips project is something that remains to be seen, but it is clear that many of those who supported him in the last election would view the move as a betrayal of what Earthjustice president Abigail Dillen referred to as the administration's “core commitment to stop runaway climate change” and a serious blow to the president's “leadership credibility.”

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