When the Biden administration approved oil production in Alaska’s North Slope, environmental activists blasted the decision. Hellbent on stopping domestic oil and natural gas production and infrastructure, several groups are already lawyering up to shut down the Willow project. As is the case with many anti-development groups, they fail to see the forest for the trees – ignoring trade-offs, the unintended environmental consequences of cancelling the project, and what the people and communities of Alaska want.
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For instance, one environmental organization called the Willow project “a carbon bomb.” Bombs are destructive. Harnessing America’s natural resources creates value. Willow is an $8 billion investment that will create an estimated 2,500 jobs, drawing support from labor unions and building trade organizations. Once operational, U.S. oil supplies will increase by 180,000 barrels of oil per day, helping to lower prices at the pump for American families and businesses. ConocoPhillips, the developer, estimates that the project will generate up to $17 billion in revenue that will accrue to North Slope communities, the state of Alaska, and the federal government.
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While many environmental organizations expressed outrage over the environmental impacts of the Willow project, it is important to assess what the environmental impacts would be if the Biden administration shuttered domestic oil and gas production. Yes, the project is going to increase emissions, but if a bigger “carbon bomb” goes off from increased production in Venezuela, Russia, or Iraq – is that a win for the planet?
When considering the environmental effects of all the energy sources and technologies available, policymakers must consider the broad range of environmental and social tradeoffs. The reality is the world is going to need more oil, and for quite some time longer than the 10 years President Biden mentioned in his State of the Union address. Petroleum is not only essential for getting to work and getting our kids to school, but it is also vital for medical technologies, agriculture, plastics, and most of the products that keep Americans safe, healthy, and happy. Consequently, restricting development in the U.S. will shift production to countries with far worse environmental standards and higher greenhouse gas emissions intensity per barrel of oil produced. Research has shown that American energy production has a better environmental record and emissions profile than many of our international counterparts.
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Importantly, many Alaskans want the project. Understanding the economic benefits of resource extraction and the long history of environmental stewardship, the Willow project has support from a bipartisan congressional delegation, unanimous support from the state legislature, and support from the majority of Alaskan Native communities living in the North Slope. Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat President Naagruk Harcharek remarked that “Willow will provide overwhelming benefits to Alaska Native communities while coexisting with our subsistence lifestyle.” Alaska’s U.S. House Representative, Democrat Representative Mary, applauded the Biden administration for putting “real energy progress over absolutism.”
If anything, the administration’s decision deserves criticism for being far too restrictive by enacting prohibitions and restrictions on up to 16 million acres (roughly 10 times the size of Delaware) in Northern Alaska. Such restrictions would deny access to more than half the energy-rich National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Senator Dan Sullivan emphasized, “The fight to unleash American and Alaskan energy is far from over. The fact that this Willow ROD comes with the announcement of future legally-dubious resource development restrictions on Alaska lands and waters is infuriating and demonstrates that the Biden Administration’s unprecedented lock-up of our state will continue.”
At a minimum, these decisions should be made by Alaskans and not administrators and lawyers in Washington and New York City. Empowering Alaskans to control their energy future will ensure that the people most affected by the decision are the ones making it. The Willow project represents an opportunity to benefit American energy consumers, enhance energy security, generate wealth for Alaskans and recognize America’s environmental advantage.
The United States has an abundance of natural resources, a wealth of innovative talent and an economic environment that welcomes entrepreneurship. American energy producers are supplying families and businesses with affordable, reliable energy while leading the world in environmental protection and climate progress. America needs an all-of-the-above energy plan that opens access to resources, engages communities and stakeholders, and permits projects in a timely manner. While the Biden administration deserves credit for its approval of Willow, actions to deny access to much of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve and strip decisions away from Alaskans are regrettable.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.