The Biden administration announced Sunday evening that it is indefinitely blocking 16 million acres of federal land and water in Alaska from future fossil fuel drilling.
The Department of Interior (DOI) said it had initiated a rulemaking process to “establish maximum protection” for 13 million acres of land across the National Petroleum Reserve (NPR), an area in North Slope Borough, Alaska, set aside by Congress for resource development. In addition, President Biden ordered an additional 2.8 million of acres to be withdrawn from oil and gas leasing in the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska.
“With these actions, President Biden continues to deliver on the most aggressive climate agenda in American history,” the DOI said in a statement. “He has made the United States a magnet for clean energy manufacturing and jobs. He secured record investments in climate resilience and environmental justice.”
“And his economic agenda has put the United States back on track to reach its climate goals for 2030 and 2050, all while reducing America’s reliance on oil and protecting American families from the impact of Putin’s war on global energy markets,” the statement added.
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The announcement means that the entire section of the Arctic Ocean owned by the federal government is blocked from any fossil fuel production in the foreseeable future. However, an offshore lease sale hasn’t been held in the region since 2007 and the administration had already ruled out future auctions through at least 2028.
Additionally, the DOI said Biden intends to limit future fossil fuel production in the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay “special areas” known for their rich wildlife populations. Biden’s sweeping actions also prevent the development of certain fossil fuel pipeline infrastructure in the northern Alaska region.
“It’s a totally political decision, it’s not based on science, it’s not based on climate change, it’s not based on biological resources,” a former senior Bureau of Land Management official said in an interview with Fox News Digital on Sunday evening.
“They’re pandering solely for political purposes and not paying attention to the science.”
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The DOI announcement, meanwhile, is an apparent attempt for the administration to soften the blow for climate activists ahead of an expected decision on a massive 30-year oil drilling project in the NPR.
The Biden administration is expected to announce Monday that is approving three of the five drilling sites for the Willow Project, an oil project proposed years ago by energy company ConocoPhillips, a congressional aide with knowledge of the situation told Fox News Digital.
ConocoPhillips has projected that Willow would produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day, create more than 2,500 construction jobs and 300 long-term jobs, and deliver as much as $17 billion in revenue for the federal government, Alaska and local communities, many of which are Indigenous. Overall, it could have a total output of 600 million barrels of oil over its three-decade lifespan.
While the DOI will publish the final decision on the project, Biden and senior White House officials have been actively involved in overseeing the approval process.
“We cannot allow the Willow Project to move forward. We must build a clean energy future — not return to a dark, fossil-fueled past,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., wrote in a tweet. “It doesn’t matter which way this oil flows, it’s the wrong direction.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., added that the administration’s expected approval of the project was a “complete betrayal.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation — Republican Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola — have supported Willow alongside the state’s entire legislature, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Alaska Native communities, labor unions, leaders of the North Slope Borough and the Alaska Federation of Natives.