Final BLM report pushes for Willow oil and gas project

Final BLM environmental report pushes for Willow project
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 9:18 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Bureau of Land Management in Alaska gave the unofficial thumbs up to develop a massive oil and gas field on Alaska’s North Slope Wednesday, opening up the potential for the Willow Project to move forward.

The agency released its final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, citing what it calls “flaws” in an August 2021 decision by the U.S. District Court of Alaska that halted permits of the Willow Master Development Plan, more colloquially known as the Willow Project.

The statement tweaked previous proposed reports on the sustainability and environmental impacts of the project, which would produce hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day and billions of dollars in state revenue.

ConocoPhillips Alaska is the chief developer behind the project, and applauded the decision by BLM to suggest the next path forward in opening up land in the northeast corner of the state.

“As a result, we believe Willow will benefit local communities and enhance American energy security while producing oil in an environmentally and socially responsible manner,” company President Erec Isaacson said in a release. “After nearly five years of rigorous regulatory review and environmental analysis, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process is almost complete and should be concluded without delay. ConocoPhillips looks forward to a final record of decision (ROD) and is ready to begin construction immediately after receiving a viable ROD and full authorization from all permitting agencies.”

ConocoPhillips Alaska says the project is estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil each day once it reaches its peak, delivering up to $17 billion in revenue for the federal government. The company added that more than 2,500 construction jobs could be created, with 300 longterm positions opening up.

Meanwhile, conservation groups are criticizing the move.

Earthjustice, a nonprofit group that advocates for environmental issues, said the project would create at least 219 wells, hundreds of miles of pipeline and 35 miles of roads in a vulnerable area of Alaska, raising concerns about fossil fuel-related issues.

“This would be the largest single oil drilling project proposed anywhere in the U.S., and it is drastically out of step with the Biden administration’s goals to slash climate pollution and transition to clean energy,” Earthjustice attorney Jeremy Lieb said in a statement. “Biden will be remembered for what he did to tackle the climate crisis, and as things stand today, it’s not too late for him to step up and pull the plug on this carbon bomb.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior responded to the statement, saying it has “substantial concerns” about the Willow Project and the preferred alternative presented in the environmental impact statement.

“Consistent with the law, a decision will be finalized by the Department no sooner than 30 days after publication of the final SEIS,” the department release said. “That decision may select a different alternative, including no action, or the deferral of additional drill pads beyond the single deferral described under the preferred alternative.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation was happy to see the decision, calling it a “welcome” development.

“The Willow Project has earned very broad support from communities on the North Slope, Alaska Native leaders, labor unions, and stakeholders across the political spectrum,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement. “That’s because Willow is environmentally-just, meticulously planned, and will bring significant economic, fiscal, and security benefits with truly minimal environmental impact.”

“The final supplemental EIS released today is an important step,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said. “The Willow project is enormously important, not only for the economic security of Alaska, but also for the energy security of the nation and all hardworking Americans who have suffered from record energy prices for too long.

“In the next 30 days, collectively, we need to amplify our voices in support of this project. We know radical far-left environmental groups, their allies in the White House, and adversaries like Russia, China, and Venezuela, do not want to see this project happen. For the good of Alaska and our country, we must continue to keep the pressure on this administration to produce a final record of decision that ensures this project remains economically viable with at least three drilling pads. Further delaying or halting this project only serves to harm hard-working Americans, our environment, and the national security of America.”

Rep. Mary Peltola echoed Murkowski and Sullivan’s reactions by calling the Willow Project “deeply important to our future as a state.”

“In the short term, this project will provide thousands of good-paying union jobs and help jump-start Alaska’s economy. In the long term, the revenues from Willow will pay for essential state services like public safety and investments in our education system,” Peltola said. “Crucially, this revenue source will also give the state options to address large challenges like our changing climate and economic outmigration.

“I am glad for the release of the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and urge the Biden Administration to move forward with final approval of the project by selecting the preferred Alternative E plan, which allows (three) drill sites, the minimum for Willow to remain economically viable. Anything less would effectively kill the project, amounting to a backdoor veto over the people of Alaska, who have made their voices heard through a broad coalition of labor, business, community, and Alaska Native leaders.”

This story has been updated with additional information.