By Ella Nilsen, CNN
(CNN) – The Biden administration has taken a key step forward on a controversial oil drilling project in Alaska’s North Slope, angering climate advocates who say the project would release tons of emissions and condemn the president’s climate goals.
The US Department of the Interior released a draft environmental impact statement for the ConocoPhillips oil drilling project, known as Willow, on Friday evening. The statement does not represent a final decision and includes several potential scenarios for the project, including no drilling. But it was a critical step the Biden administration needed to take to move the process forward — setting off alarm bells among environmental groups.
If approved and built, the project would produce 629 million barrels of oil over a 30-year lifespan and release between 278 million and 284 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that would warm the planet, according to the draft statement. of environmental impact.
ConocoPhillips is proposing five drill sites on federal lands in Alaska’s North Slope, and the project would include a processing facility, oil transport pipelines, gravel roads, at least one airstrip and a gravel mine site, says the draft EIS report.
The Biden administration has faced considerable pressure from congressional Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to boost domestic energy production to help lower gasoline prices, even if this project would take years.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska applauded the administration’s decision and said she would “continue to hold them accountable” in hopes the project would begin construction this winter.
“From day one, I have elevated Project Willow to a top priority for the administration,” Murkowski said in a statement.
Environmental groups blasted the new development, saying it would destroy Biden’s climate goals of halving U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade and accelerating the pace of climate change. climate change.
“This project is a pending climate catastrophe,” Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement. “Once approved, it will define the country’s energy future for the next 30+ years without impacting the pain Americans are currently feeling at the pumps.”
The groups also said the project would harm native wildlife, including polar bears, migratory birds and caribou.
“We cannot allow ConocoPhillips to destroy this pristine region – which is already warming three times faster than the rest of the world due to climate change,” said Alex Taurel, conservation program director for the League of Conservation Voters. , in a press release.
Willow was initially approved by the Trump administration, but was then temporarily blocked by a judge who said the previous administration’s environmental analysis was insufficient and did not fully consider potential harm to wildlife. or additional impact on climate change.
The Biden administration’s new EIS project was necessary for the project to continue.
With the release of the draft, a 45-day public comment period takes effect before the administration makes a final decision.
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