This major oil extraction project was approved by the US government after a major mobilization of its opponents. Joe Biden had promised during the presidential campaign that he would no longer issue drilling permits.
US President Joe Biden on Monday authorized “Project Willow”, a major oil extraction project in the northwestern state of Alaska. A decision taken against the advice of environmentalists, who had strongly mobilized in favor of the total abandonment of the project, announced as devastating for the territory and very emitting of greenhouse gases.
· What is the project?
Project Willow aims to produce at least 576 million barrels of oil over 30 years, according to information provided by the US Department of the Interior, worth around $7 billion ($6.52 billion). euros). A total of three drill sites have been approved, which should eventually represent approximately 219 extraction wells.
They must extend within the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska, an area of more than nine million hectares which borders the Beaufort Sea, in the South of the Arctic Ocean. This reserve belongs to the American State at the federal level, which also makes the Willow project one of the largest imagined in this type of area and the largest in Alaska.
When the authorization was announced, the American company Conoco Philipps, which has been carrying out the project for several years, welcomed the government’s decision and said it was ready to “immediately begin road construction activities”. The company had owned “concessions” in the region, i.e. operating permits, since the end of the 1990s. It is part of the group of “six supermajors”, that is to say the six largest oil companies in the world, which also includes TotalEnergies, the only French company among the six.
· Why is it controversial?
The project will result in the indirect emission of 239 million tonnes of CO2 over its thirty years of operation. This represents the equivalent of the emissions of 64 coal-fired power plants for one year, according to a calculation tool from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In comparison, the United States released the equivalent of 5.9 billion tons of CO2 in 2020, again according to the EPA.
Environmental associations denounce a disaster for the climate. “The carbon pollution it will release into the air will have devastating effects on our people, wildlife, and the climate. We will suffer the consequences for decades to come,” environmental organization Sierra said on Monday. Club.
A major mobilization has been organized on the TikTok social network, where the StopWillowProject has been viewed 267 million times at the time of writing this article, through thousands of videos. A petition against the project gathered nearly 3.9 million signatures.
Supporters of the project defend the financial windfall that the project represents for the region. According to Cocono Philipps, the project will generate at least 2,000 jobs, 300 of which will be long-term. The administration of Joe Biden believes that the project will increase the energy independence of the United States, in a context of instability of energy sources abroad, in particular in connection with the war in Ukraine. .
Why is Joe Biden particularly targeted?
During the presidential campaign in 2020, candidate Joe Biden assured that he intended to end drilling on federal lands, at sea and stop granting new permits to oil companies.
“No more oil drilling on federal lands. Period. Period. Period. It’s a disaster to do this in the Arctic, a big disaster,” he defended in February 2020.
The decision to authorize the Willow project is therefore contrary to these promises. Especially since the project was initially approved under the presidency of Donald Trump before being temporarily stopped in 2021 by a judge, who had sent it back for a new government review.
Anxious at the same time to give pledges to environmental defenders, the Ministry of the Interior has announced that it is working on additional protections for a large area of the national oil reserve. He also announced that he wanted to permanently ban drilling over a large area of the Arctic Ocean, bordering this reserve.
Joe Biden has promised to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% by 2030, compared to 2005. A goal taken under the Paris Climate Agreement, to enable the world’s largest economy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
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