The project was green-lit under the Trump administration
The US Department of Justice under Mr Biden’s administration defended a Trump-era decision to allow the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska‘s north slope, saying it was “reasonable and consistent” with the law.
The department’s defence means the Biden administration is standing against a lawsuit brought by environmental groups that wanted to halt the drilling over concerns that it would have a negative impact on wildlife and increase emissions in the region.
Though Mr Biden paused all new drilling leases affecting public lands, he is allowing the Alaskan project to continue.
The Guardian reported that the project, which is called Willow, is being directed by ConocoPhillips, an oil company, and is slated to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil every day for the next 30 years.
Activists opposed to the drilling said the administration’s support of the project flies in the face of his vows to combat climate change and reduce US emissions.
Kristen Monsell, and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, expressed her disappointment with the decision to The Guardian.
“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Biden administration defending this environmentally disastrous project,” she said. “President Biden promised climate action and our climate can’t afford more huge new oil-drilling projects.”
In order to drill for oil in an environment that is rapidly heating – the Arctic is heating three times faster than the rest of the planet – ConocoPhillips has to resort to using “chillers” injected into the Alaskan permafrost to stop extensive melting while it drills.
Ms Monsell said the need for such tactics “highlights the ridiculousness of drilling in the Arctic.”
The Willow project requires up to 250 wells and infrastructure to support them, which includes a processing facility, hundreds of miles of pipelines, roads and an airstrip.
The Trump administration green-lit the project in the last months of his presidency, and activists hoped Mr Biden would reverse his decision.
In addition to environmental activists’ opposition, Native Alaskan groups have also complained about the project, saying it could hurt the area’s wildlife, like polar bears, fish and caribou.
“This project is in the important fall migration for Nuiqsut,” Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, a resident of nearby Nuiqsut, told The Guardian. “It should not happen. The village spoke in opposition and the greed for profit should not be allowed over our village.”