U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday approved the huge Willow oil-drilling project on Alaska's petroleum-rich North Slope, a decision that drew quick condemnation from environmentalists who say it undermines his pledge to move the country toward renewable energy production.
The Willow approval for the ConocoPhillips crude oil producer will allow drilling at three sites, up to 199 wells, although Biden rejected drilling at two other sites and the company agreed to relinquish rights to about 27,000 hectares (68,000 acres) of existing leases in Alaska, the northwestern-most U.S. state.
The decision came a day after the Biden administration tacked toward conservation of wilderness lands in the region, banning or limiting drilling in other areas of the state and the Arctic Ocean.
ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance called the Biden decision "the right decision for Alaska and our nation" and the state’s two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, also praised the Democratic president’s approval for the drilling.
The operation could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day, while creating 2,500 jobs during construction and 300 long-term jobs.
Environmentalists who have long fought the project condemned Biden’s decision and are attempting to block it with legal action.
"We are too late in the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden administration committed to advancing," said Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen. "We know President Biden understands the existential threat of climate, but he is approving a project that derails his own climate goals."