The Biden administration will approve a massive and controversial oil drilling project in Alaska.
The decision to move ahead with the project by authorizing three drill sites in northwestern Alaska would come a day after Biden announced sweeping curbs on oil and gas leasing to protect up to 16 million acres of water and land in the region.
The approval of the plan means the administration is also rejecting pleas from environmental groups and some nearby tribal communities to block the development they fear will threaten the pristine wilderness and undermine the president’s promises to fight climate change.
The decision will allow ConocoPhillips to develop three drilling sites at its proposed Willow project on federal land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
It is a smaller amount than the company had originally requested, but it said it is large enough to let the project proceed.
A formal announcement is expected on Monday.
At the same time, Biden is making a conservation drive, moving to protect some 16 million acres of land and water in Alaska from future oil and gas drilling. The Arctic Ocean protections, while sweeping in area, don’t cover a region of near-term drilling interest by oil and gas companies.
Past attempts to drill there were thwarted in part by the region’s harsh environmental conditions.
President Biden has pledged to move away from fossil fuels.
But the Willow project that initially got the go-ahead during the Trump administration has the backing of officials including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), some Alaska Native leaders, and unions.
Biden is prohibiting future oil and gas leasing in the entire U.S. Arctic Ocean. The department is writing a new proposed rule to protect over 13 million acres in the NPR-A, which its statement noted was populated by grizzly and polar bears, caribou, and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.