Administration officials are moving ahead with the Willow project despite the fact its environmental analysis raised “substantial concerns” about emissions, danger to freshwater sources and threats to migratory birds, caribou, whales and other animals that inhabit the region.
According to the two people familiar with the deliberations, the administration concluded that it doesn’t have the legal authority to deny permits to ConocoPhillips, which has long held leases on the land in the petroleum reserve.
The cornerstone of Mr. Biden’s new Arctic environmental pledges is a declaration that the entire Arctic Ocean will be off limits to oil and gas leasing, completing an effort that began under President Barack Obama.
The Interior Department said Mr. Biden will designate about 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean near shore in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska as indefinitely off limits for future oil and gas leasing. That would ensure “this important habitat for whales, seals, polar bears, as well as for subsistence purposes, will be protected in perpetuity from extractive development,” the Interior Department said in a statement.
Mr. Obama banned drilling in portions of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, using a 1953 law that allows presidents to block the sale of offshore drilling and mining rights. President Trump later tried to open all coastal waters of the United States to oil and gas drilling, including the areas protected by the Obama administration.
Mr. Biden also announced protections for a number of sites in Alaska, including Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay Special Areas.
Oil industry officials criticized the planned Arctic protections.
“In the current energy crisis, the Biden administration should be focused on strengthening U.S. energy security and standing with the working families of Alaska by supporting the responsible development of federal lands and waters — not acting to restrict it,” said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy at the American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization.