Where Biden’s Arctic oil strategy may succeed — or fail

March 16, 2023

The Biden administration promised this week to ink new protections against oil drilling in the Arctic in an apparent counter to approval of ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil project.

But will the administration’s plan help curb the industry’s future expansion in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska as the White House claims? And is it a winning political strategy for President Joe Biden?

Many observers are skeptical, and industry sees an oil revival for public lands in the far north.

“The decision is a milestone for Alaska’s upstream sector,” explained Mark Oberstoetter, upstream oil and gas analyst for Wood Mackenzie, pointing to several adjoining projects on nearby state and Alaska Native lands that together constitute enough oil to push Alaska back from the brink of significant decline. “A revival of North Slope production is now on.”

The administration may need to harness a 1976 law granting the Interior Department authority to protect the Arctic ecosystem and wildlife if it wants to counter that narrative, although it’s unclear how the law’s language might be interpreted to change the status quo, experts say. The administration may expand wetlands and river corridors that are already largely cut off from drilling, while also making the oil industry’s attempts to build out infrastructure more difficult by delaying approvals. It also has the option of refusing to hold lease auctions that would give companies further drilling rights.


Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who has proposed legislation to retire oil drilling on public lands, slammed the Willow project in a call with reporters Monday and urged the administration to go after the flow of oil from federal lands with as much gusto as it’s backed historic investments in clean energy and electric vehicles.

“If you’re not charting a new course on fossil fuel development, it seriously undermines the ability of those [clean energy and climate] investments in those reforms to make a difference,” he said. “It’s really simple, you just have to look at both sides of the ledger. And the supply side needs attention.”


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By:  Heather Richards
Source: E&E News