Administration takes mixed action on US Arctic oil and gas development

A flock of geese stand on tundra

The US Department of Interior withdrew 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea from future oil and gas leasing, and will consider additional protections for 13 million acres on the North Slope designated as Special Areas in recognition of their significant natural and historical values.

At the same time, the administration also gave formal approval for ConocoPhillips’ Willow project, a massive oil and gas development project in the fragile wetlands of Alaska’s North Slope. Annually, the project will produce 9.2 million metric tons of carbon, the equivalent to adding 2 million cars to American roads.

"We welcome the recent decision by the Biden administration to complete the withdrawal of the Beaufort Sea from offshore oil and gas leasing,” Steve MacLean, US Arctic Program managing director said. “This significantly reduces the risk posed to ecosystems and wildlife, and the subsistence communities that have lived in harmony with both for millennia and have been advocating for stronger protections. We need an Arctic-wide network of protected and conserved areas that will help meet global commitments to protect biodiversity and limit climate change. This effort must be informed by local voices, ways of knowing, and needs.

WWF does not support new exploration and production of oil and gas globally, including in America’s Arctic.

“The Administration’s decision to allow the Willow project to move forward risks adding millions of additional tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, making it more difficult for the US to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement,” MacLean added.

“Instead of building new fossil fuel infrastructure, we need a just transition to renewable and sustainable economies in the Arctic – one that is powered by clean energy and prioritizes the needs of local communities preparing for a changing world with limited access to opportunity and historical underinvestment.”

When burned, the crude oil obtained from Willow is projected to produce nearly 280 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.