Find the latest breaking news and information on the top stories, science, business, entertainment, politics, and more.

US approves contentious oil drilling project in Alaska

The Biden administration’s approval of the Willow project in the northwestern US state is drawing condemnation from environmental groups.

The United States has approved a controversial oil and gas drilling project in the northwestern state of Alaska, condemning environmentalists who say the move goes against President Joe Biden’s climate pledges.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Monday that it has approved a scaled-down version of ConocoPhillips’ $7 billion Willow project on Alaska’s petroleum-rich North Slope.

ConocoPhillips had attempted to build up to five drilling sites, tens of kilometers of roads, seven bridges and several pipelines.

The Interior Ministry approved the three drill blocks project after saying last month it was concerned about greenhouse gas impacts, cutting the company’s proposal by 40 percent by denying two requested drill blocks.

That would reduce the project’s freshwater use and prevent the development of 18 km (11 mi) of roads, 32 km (20 mi) of pipelines and 54 hectares (133 acres) of gravel, the department said Monday.

“The actions will create an additional buffer for exploration and development activities near the calving areas and migration routes for the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd, an important source of livelihood for nearby Alaskan Native communities,” it said in a statement.

The decision comes despite an aggressive 11-hour campaign from opponents who say the development of the three drilling sites conflicts with Biden’s much-publicized efforts to combat climate change and rapidly transition to cleaner energy sources.

“The damaging consequences of President Biden’s decision cannot be overemphasized,” Sierra Club executive Ben Jealous said in a statement.

“Willow will be one of the largest oil and gas operations on federal public lands in the country, and the carbon pollution it will release into the air will have devastating effects on our communities, wildlife and the climate. We will experience the consequences of this in the coming decades.”

Willow’s fate has been closely watched by Alaska officials, the oil and gas industry and environmental groups, and the Biden administration’s decision is unlikely to be the last word, with lawsuits expected from environmentalists.

Located in the federally designated National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the project enjoys broad political support in the state.

Alaska Native state lawmakers recently met with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to push for support for Willow, and the company has said it sees the three-site option approved Monday as workable.

But environmentalists have promoted a #StopWillow campaign on social media to remind Biden of his commitments to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy.

Christy Goldfuss, a former White House official of President Barack Obama and now a policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said she was “deeply disappointed” with Biden’s decision to approve Willow.

The NRDC estimates that the project would generate global greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than one million households.

“This decision is bad for the climate, bad for the environment and bad for Alaska Native communities who oppose this and feel their voices are not being heard,” Goldfuss said.

Monday’s approval came after the Biden administration announced new land and water protections in Alaska on Sunday.

It said it would make nearly 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Sea “indefinitely off limits” to oil and gas leasing, building on an Obama-era ban and effectively shutting it down of the US Arctic waters for oil exploration.

It also issued protections for 5.2 million hectares (13 million acres) of “environmentally sensitive” special areas within the Alaska Petroleum Reserve.