North

U.S. gov't approves Alaskan oil project near prized conservation area

The U.S. government approved the Willow oil project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, allowing construction near a prized conservation area in a largely undeveloped region.

Conservation groups criticized the proposal as a threat to the wetland complex nearby and to polar bears

Lake Teshekpuk, pictured above, is considered vital for several animal species, including caribou, polar bears and migrating birds. It is located in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the area in which the U.S. government approved the development of the Willow oil project. (Subhankar Banerjee via the Alaska Wilderness League/Associated Press)

The U.S. government has approved the Willow oil project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, allowing construction near a prized conservation area in a largely undeveloped region.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed the government's record of decision Monday that lets ConocoPhillips Co. establish up to three drill sites, a processing facility and gravel roads and pipelines on the North Slope, The Anchorage Daily News reported.

Two more drill sites and additional roads and pipelines proposed by ConocoPhillips can be considered later, the Interior Department said in a statement Tuesday.

Willow could produce up to 160,000 barrels of oil a day with about 600 million barrels over 30 years. That would help offset dwindling oil production and Alaska state revenues, the agency said.

More than 1,000 jobs would be created during construction of the sites and more than 400 jobs during operations, the department said.

The Willow project and the Pikka oil project being pursued by Oil Search Ltd. are large new discoveries in the region west of Prudhoe Bay.

The federal government set aside the petroleum reserve nearly a century ago for its energy potential, but did not hold lease sales for years in the reserve of 93,079 square kilometres.

Construction at Willow could begin next year after regulatory approvals are granted, while oil production would begin about five years later, ConocoPhillips spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said.

'Dangerous development rush'

Conservation groups criticized the proposal as a threat to the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, a wetland complex in the reserve that supports migratory birds and calving grounds for the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd.

Kristen Miller, conservation director for the Alaska Wilderness League, said the administration's decision is a dangerous development rush. Conservation groups also said polar bears could be threatened.

"Administration officials saw an opportunity to check off another industry wish list box with the public's attention diverted by coronavirus, and they took it," Miller said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now