Trump administration issues go-ahead for a major Arctic Alaska oil project

The Willow prospect is set to be the westernmost producing oil field on the North Slope.

By Yereth Rosen - October 28, 2020
A sign points on the North Slope points the way to the two wells, Tinmiaq 2 and 6, that are part of ConocoPhillips Willow prospect in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. (Judy Patrick / ConocoPhillips file photo)

The Trump administration has given final approval to ConocoPhillips’ plan for a major new oil field on Alaska’s North Slope.

The Bureau of Land Management on Monday issued its record of decision in favor of the plan for the Willow Master Development Plan.

Willow, a prospect with oil from the previously neglected Nanushuk geologic formation that runs through the eastern side of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, would be the westernmost producing oil field on the North Slope.

The project will tap into what is believed to be 590 million barrels of reserves and produce up to produce 160,000 barrels per day over 30 years, the BLM said in a statement. As planned by ConocoPhillips, the Willow development will have the processing capacity to support other new oil fields in the area.

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt invoked President Trump as the leader who is making the development a reality.

“President Trump made his administration focus on American energy independence and the freedom it provides from day one of his term,” Bernhardt said in the BLM’s statement. “This decision will make a significant contribution to keeping oil flowing down the 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline decades into the future while delivering federal and state revenue as well as important impact assistance to the affected native communities.”

The record of decision was released two months after the BLM issued its final environmental impact statement endorsing ConocoPhillips’ plan.

ConocoPhillips is pleased that the milestone has been reached, said Natalie Lowman, an Alaska spokeswoman for the company.

ConocoPhillips could begin project construction in 2021 if it receives other necessary regulatory approval, Lowman said by email.

“The ROD is the key milestone that allows us to move forward with project planning. We believe the BLM and cooperating agencies have done a robust, thorough, and extensive review of the project, and ConocoPhillips appreciates all the hard work it took to get to this point,” she said by email.

The decision was applauded by Alaska politicians.

“With this important Record of Decision completed, the NRP-A is slated to be among the hottest energy prospects in the world,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said in a joint statement issued by the Alaska Congressional delegation.

Sullivan, a Republican running for reelection, also credited the Trump administration.

“We as a delegation have fought hard with the administration against those in the Lower 48 who want to shut Alaska’s economy down, and I have every intention of protecting what we’ve earned,” he said.

But environmentalists condemned it as a rushed job and part of a wider campaign to enable damaging oil development across Alaska’s Arctic.

“The attacks on the Arctic just continue to escalate,” Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “The finalization of oil and gas plans for the Willow project and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are a one-two punch to wildlife including imperiled Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears and their critical habitat. Despite the urgent need to ramp down our carbon emissions, as the Arctic continues to melt, the Bureau of Land Management just continues its drumbeat to drill for fossil fuels.”