Biden’s Approval of Controversial Alaska Oil and Gas Development: A Blow to Climate Action?

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On Monday, President Joe Biden approved a controversial oil and gas development in Alaska, shocking his progressive allies and marking a dramatic shift from the climate change campaign that characterized his first two years in office.

ConocoPhillips has been authorized by the U.S. Interior Department to carry out the Willow project, with three drilling sites being built in the petroleum-producing North Slope region, a reduced area from the original plan of five sites.

As a result of the decision, ConocoPhillips must give up its drilling rights to an area of around 275 square kilometres in the northwest region known as the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Climate activists argue that the reduced version of the project will still be a major “carbon bomb” with the potential to generate 300 million tonnes of emissions over the next 30 years, severely hampering President Biden’s efforts to reduce the US reliance on fossil fuels.

Acting executive director of the Canadian branch of the Climate Action Network, Caroline Brouillette, commented that Biden’s recent move was a bad signal, considering he had been “pretending” to be committed to international climate initiatives for the past two years.

“I think we’re seeing from President Joe Biden the same logic of political compromise that has characterized climate policy, quite frankly, around the world in past years. ” Brouillette said.

That move “does not square with the physics of climate change,” she added. “We have to bend the curve of global emissions right now — and approving massive carbon bombs like the Willow project will, in effect, do exactly the opposite of that.”

Biden has also banned new oil and gas leases in an area of the Arctic Ocean covering around 11,500 square kilometres.

The Canadian government attempted to reduce the impact of Biden’s approval by including various regulations, such as the necessity to meet a net-zero emissions goal by 2050.

“Canada’s government deserves just as much criticism for its continued expansion of oil and gas as the government of the United States,” said Sierra Club Canada spokesman Conor Curtis.

“We call upon both countries to put an end to the expansion of oil and gas development. There is no room for, ‘Just one last oil and gas project.’”

Brouillette and Custis both compared Biden’s approval to Canada’s decision to approve the Bay du Nord offshore oil massive project in 2022.

According to Brouillette, the decisions in the Willow and Bay du Nord projects show that U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put politics before  truly addressing climate change

“Canada shares similar struggles in terms of really joining actions with its word when it comes to the protection of Indigenous rights and sovereignty,” she stated.

“The U.S. and Canada have shown that they don’t understand that crucial threshold of climate leadership with these decisions … while continuing to ignore this elephant in the climate policy room.”

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Written by Olivia Woods

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