The US government has approved the Willow Petroleum Project in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, allowing construction near a highly prized conservation area in a largely underdeveloped region.
ConocoPhillips, the company that will operate the site, will be able to establish up to three drilling sites, a processing facility, gravel roads and pipelines on the North Slope, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
Two other drilling sites, additional roads and pipelines proposed by ConocoPhillips may be considered later, the Department of the Interior also said in a statement Tuesday.
Oil in five years
Construction on the Willow Project, on the northern reserve, which spans more than 93,000 square kilometers, could begin next year after regulatory approvals have been obtained. Oil production would begin about five years later, said Natalie Lowman, spokesperson for ConocoPhillips.
According to the Home Office, the project aims to produce up to 160,000 barrels of oil per day and about 600 million in 30 years. The volumes could help offset declining oil production and lower Alaska state revenues, the department believes.
He adds that up to 1,000 jobs could be created during the construction phase and 400 during the operational phase.
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Concerned environmental groups
The announcement of the project has sparked criticism from environmental groups who call it a threat to the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, a wetland complex within the reserve. It is home to migratory birds and calving grounds for the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd.
Kristen Miller, director of conservation for the Alaska Wilderness League, says the US administration's decision is a dangerous development rush. Environmentalists have also said that polar bears could be at risk.
Administration officials saw an opportunity to satisfy another oil industry wish, as public attention was diverted by the coronavirus, and they seized it, denounces Ms. Miller.
The federal government set aside the oil reserve almost a century ago for its energy potential, but no lease sales had been held for years.