President Joe Biden is trying to have it both ways on fossil fuels.
On Monday, the president gave the official green light for the ConocoPhillips Willow Project to move forward in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. The decision to approve the major oil and gas project promises up to 2,500 new jobs to the rural region during construction and another 300 positions permanently. The $8 billion project will also allow up to 180,000 barrels of oil to flow down the Trans-Alaska pipeline daily.
The decision triggered a public-relations crisis for a White House beholden to radical environmentalists who are hellbent on blocking any and all development. Even though just 3 out of 5 drilling sites were approved with bipartisan support, left-wing activists condemned the administration for igniting a “carbon bomb.” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., called Biden’s approval a “betrayal.” Other Democrats including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola celebrated the project’s chance to move forward.
To make amends with the disgruntled base, the president timed Monday’s decision with the announcement that the rest of the Arctic would be cut off from future development indefinitely.
On Sunday, the Department of the Interior unveiled new regulations to choke off 2.8 million acres of the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea and 13 million acres within the National Petroleum Reserve from new leases. The cascade of new protections, according to one administration official who spoke to The New York Times, is meant to erect a “firewall” against new drilling.
Most of the reserve remains unexplored, leaving its full potential unknown before policymakers in Washington preemptively shut down any opportunities for extraction. No new oil leases have been sold in the Arctic Ocean since 2007, according to Politico’s Energy Wire.
In trying to have it both ways, President Biden upset both the left and the right. Alaska’s Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy criticized the president for shutting off colossal portions of his state from development.
“It’s disgraceful that the Biden administration thinks that this is a compromise that will benefit America,” Dunleavy said. “Taking future oil production in Alaska off the map won’t decrease global oil consumption. It will just shift the market and give leverage to producers in countries that don’t have our high standards for the environment and human rights.”
In the first year of his presidency, Biden marked his animosity toward fossil fuels with sweeping restrictions on federal lands, including an outright ban on new public leases and the closure of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The ban on new leasing lasted 18 months before federal courts overturned it. Restrictions on Arctic drilling, however, just got tighter.
Americans faced record gas prices last summer after the president continued to escalate the war on fossil fuels he promised Democrats on the campaign trail. Prices peaked in June with a nationwide average of $5.01 per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline, according to AAA.
Biden sought to artificially suppress gas prices by turning to the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which is supposed to be maintained for emergency supply disruptions such as a hurricane. The routine depletions, which he leveraged as political capital ahead of the 2022 midterms, left the reserve at its lowest level since 1983.
According to internal records at the Department of Energy, made public by the Freedom of Information Act in January, the administration timed the release of the reserves with already forecast price dips.
Biden’s decision Monday to move the Willow project forward comes as the president gears up for a competitive re-election campaign. While Biden has not yet announced an official run for a second term, the decision suggests the president is quietly preparing. Self-help author Marianne Williamson is the sole Democrat in the race to replace him on the ticket in 2024.
“As president I would immediately cancel the Willow project,” Williamson said on Twitter Monday. “We’re either going to save the planet, or we’re not. Right now we are stealing from our grandchildren the right to safely inhabit this world.”
Though Biden’s approval aims to hush the critics of his anti-energy administration, no oil will flow from the Willow Project any time before November 2024. According to Rick Whitbeck, the Alaska director for Power the Future, ConocoPhillips will not produce anything from the project until 2027. Environmental groups are almost certain to launch a litigation campaign to delay the project even further.
“Approving Willow is what is right for America, but infuriates the zealots,” Whitbeck told The Federalist. “He’s playing a dangerous game as he tries to walk on the fence.”