(Washington) The US government on Monday approved a major oil project in Alaska, the Willow project of the American giant ConocoPhillips, triggering the anger of environmental activists in the United States, who had launched a vast campaign to warn of its harmful consequences. for the climate.
The project has been reduced to three drilling areas against the five initially requested by the company, however argued the Department of the Interior, responsible for federal lands in the United States.
The oil development will be located in an area called the National Petroleum Reserve in northwest Alaska. This is US state land, as Democratic President Joe Biden came to power promising not to allow new oil and gas drilling on federal land.
The approved project will produce 576 million barrels of oil over about 30 years, according to the ministry document. In total, it will result in the indirect emission of the equivalent of 239 million tonnes of CO2.
This represents the equivalent of the emissions of 64 coal-fired power plants for one year, according to a calculation tool from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To give an order of magnitude: in 2020 the United States released the equivalent of 5.9 billion tons of CO2according to the EPA.
Anxious at the same time to give pledges to environmental defenders, the American government has announced that it is working on additional protections for a vast area of the national oil reserve. He also announced that he wanted to permanently ban drilling over a large area of the Arctic Ocean, bordering this reserve.
The defenders of the Willow project see it as a source of jobs, and a contribution to the energy independence of the United States.
ConocoPhillips, which acquired the concessions in the late 1990s, welcomed the government’s decision and said it was ready to “start road construction activities immediately”.
The operation will be built with “materials primarily made in and sourced from the United States, and has the potential to create more than 2,500 construction jobs, and approximately 300 long-term jobs,” the company added.
But environmental associations denounce a disaster for the climate.
“Willow is going to be one of the largest oil and gas operations on federal public lands in the country,” environmental organization Sierra Club said Monday. “The carbon pollution it will release into the air will have devastating effects on our people, wildlife, and the climate. We will suffer the consequences for decades to come. »
For days, a wave of videos opposing the project had swept through the social network TikTok, and an online petition had collected more than 3.2 million signatures.
On the contrary, Alaskan elected officials in the United States Congress welcomed the news. “You can almost literally feel Alaska’s future brighten,” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said in a statement. “We are now on the verge of creating thousands of new jobs, and generating billions of dollars in new income,” she added.
The battle over Project Willow has been going on for years. It was initially approved by the Trump administration, before being temporarily halted in 2021 by a judge, who sent it back for further government review.
At the beginning of February, the Land Management Office had published its environmental analysis of the project, in which it had detailed a “preferred alternative” – the one finally chosen – with three drilling sites.
This solution makes it possible in particular to reduce the impact on the migration of caribou, argued the ministry. And to better move towards Joe Biden’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, he assured.
The Democratic president has promised to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% by 2030, compared to 2005. A goal taken under the Paris Climate Accord, to enable the world’s largest economy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
In a statement, the president of the Earthjustice organization, Abigail Dillen, pointed to an apparent contradiction: “We know that President Biden understands the existential climate threat, but he approves a project that derails his own climate commitments” .