President Joe Biden will declare the entire U.S. Arctic Ocean off limits to new oil and gas leasing, even as a decision looms on whether it will approve a controversial oil project in Alaska, according to a senior administration official.
The administration will also announce Monday new rules meant to make 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska off limits for new leases, the official said. Those protections would extend to the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay Special Areas, the official said.
But these rules would not affect the controversial Willow project, which the administration is expected to greenlight this week, because ConocoPhillips already has leases. That drilling project would produce up to 180,000 barrels a day of oil in the Alaska wilderness — an anticipated decision that has drawn the ire of environmentalists.
The White House has been mulling the Willow decision for weeks. The deliberations have focused on the legal constraints posed by the fact that Conoco has held some leases for decades and “has certain valid, existing rights granted by prior Administrations, limiting the Biden Administration’s options,” the official continued.
Stopping new oil leases, plus other measures meant to conserve the Arctic from new drilling, is meant as a “fire wall” to protect 16 million acres of land and water in the state, said the official.
The Sierra Club environmental group gave tempered support to any new rules.
“These unparalleled protections for Alaskan landscapes and waters are the right decision at the right time, and we thank the Biden Administration for taking this significant step,” Sierra Club Lands Protection Program Director Athan Manuel said in a prepared statement. “However, the benefits of these protections can be undone just as quickly by approval of oil and gas projects on public lands, and right now, no proposal poses a bigger threat to lands, wildlife, communities, and our climate than ConocoPhillips’ Willow project.”