Several Republican lawmakers in Alaska along with Alaska Native leaders urged the Biden administration Tuesday to allow a major oil project on the petroleum-rich North Slope to continue unfettered.
The Biden administration “damn well better not kill the project, period,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski told a group of reporters on Tuesday, urging the federal government to approve the project which has been described as economically critical for Indigenous communities and important for the nation’s energy security.
The lawmaker’s comments come after the U.S. Bureau of Land Management conducted an environmental review earlier this month of an initial proposal of ConocoPhillips Alaska’s Willow project, ultimately reducing the number of proposed drill sites.
The preferred alternative that was offered reduced the five drill sites favored by the company to just three suggested by the government. The alternative has its proponents, including Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation.
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However, Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan said any further limits of the project could kill it.
The Bureau of Land Management has clarified that the proposed alternative “does not constitute a commitment or decision” by the Biden administration to approve of the project.
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Separately, the U.S. Interior Department has said it has “substantial concerns” about the project and the report’s preferred alternative, “including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence.”
The Bureau of Land Management operates under the Interior Department.
Sullivan has said the Willow project could be “one of the biggest, most important resource development projects in our state’s history.” He also urged state lawmakers in Alaska’s capital last week to pass a resolution expressing support for the project.
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Environmentalists and community leaders in Nuiqsut, about 36 miles from the proposed Willow project, have expressed concerns the potential development would be inconsistent with President Joe Biden’s climate goals.
City of Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak said there are “many who would like to say everybody in Alaska supports oil and gas development. Well, for our village, this development is in the wrong area.”
“Our concerns are real. It’s about our way of life, the life, health and safety of our village,” she added.
But, in a speech on the U.S. Senate floor last week, Sullivan said the project has more support than what may appear in the media.
Taqulik Hepa, director of the Department of Wildlife Management for the North Slope Borough, said taxes levied on oil and gas infrastructure enabled her community to invest in public infrastructure, support local schools and provide police, fire, and other services.
Residents are “keenly aware of the need to balance responsible oil development and the subsistence lifestyle that has sustained us,” Hepa said.
Nagruk Harcharek, president of the group Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, said there is “majority consensus” in the region in favor of the project and added the project is a “lifeline” for residents.
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He also said there are limited economic development opportunities in the region, which makes approval of the Willow project important.
During Biden’s State of the Union address, he admitted the U.S. would need oil “for at least another decade.″
Murkowski challenged this timeline, saying the U.S. would eventually transition toward a “different energy future” but said Biden needs to “recheck his facts, respectfully.”
“We are decades, decades away from a time that we would be beyond oil resources,” she said. “The need is very, very much still there.”
The proposed Willow project is in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. ConocoPhillips Alaska has said it could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak.
The project is expected to create up to 2,500 jobs during construction and an estimated 300 permanent jobs, along with generating billions of dollars in revenues for federal, state and local governments, the company announced.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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