A federal judge in Alaska has upheld the Biden administration’s approval of the Willow oil-drilling project on the state’s remote North Slope. This decision comes as a setback to environmentalists who accused the president of going back on his promise to tackle climate change.
U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason rejected a call made by a grassroots Iñupiat group and environmentalists to annul the approval and dismissed their claims.
These groups raised concerns about the greenhouse gas emissions from the Willow project and argued that federal agencies failed to consider how increased emissions could impact ice-reliant species such as the polar bear, Arctic ringed seals, and bearded seals, which are already experiencing disruptions due to climate change.
The decision is subject to appeal.
The Willow project, situated in the federally designated National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, enjoys broad political support in the state. However, climate activists argue that allowing it to proceed constitutes a significant breach of President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to halt new oil drilling on federal lands.
ConocoPhillips Alaska had proposed five drilling sites, but the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved three, which it said would include up to 199 total wells. The project could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak. Using that oil would produce the equivalent of at least 263 million tons (239 million metric tons) of greenhouse gas emissions over Willow’s projected 30-year life.