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US president green lights controversial oil drilling project in Alaska

US President Joe Biden approved on Monday a massive oil drilling project in Alaska that environmentalists say undermine his initiative to wean the country from its reliance on fossil fuels.

The Biden administration’s approval of the ConocoPhillips’ multi-billion dollar Willow Project allows for three drill sites to be constructed on Alaska’s North Slope, down from five originally proposed by the company. It is estimated to produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day.

ConocoPhillips hailed Biden’s decision, saying it would produce between $8 billion to $17 billion in revenue for the federal government, and create over 2,500 construction jobs and roughly 300 long-term jobs.

As part of the agreement to approve the Willow Project, ConocoPhillips is relinquishing 68,000 acres of land on which it had leases in the area, which is known as the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, according to the Interior Department.

“This was the right decision for Alaska and our nation,” CEO Ryan Lance said in a statement. “Willow fits within the Biden Administration’s priorities on environmental and social justice, facilitating the energy transition and enhancing our energy security, all while creating good union jobs and providing benefits to Alaska Native communities.”

Climate activists, however, warned that the approval would jeopardize Biden’s climate legacy.

Christy Goldfuss, a former Obama administration official who now works for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group, said Biden made a “grievous mistake” by approving a “carbon bomb.”

“Willow is a project out of time. With science demanding an end to fossil fuels, this locks in decades more dependence on oil. With the climate crisis worsening by the day, this has the same yearly carbon footprint of roughly 1.1 million homes—more than are in Chicago,” she said in a statement.

The Biden administration sought to stave off the criticism by announcing on Sunday protections for up to 16 million acres, including preventing future oil and gas drilling in 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean. The areas “will be protected in perpetuity from extractive development,” according to the Interior Department.

An additional over 13 million acres are having limits imposed on any future extractive development.

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