The Biden Administration's Ambiguous Position on Drilling in Alaska

The administration's support of a Conoco-Phillips project is at odds with its suspension of Trump-era oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

June 23, 2021, 7:30 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline

Maureen / Flickr

The Biden administration's contradicting stances on drilling in Alaska, writes Frederick Hewett for WBUR's Cognoscenti, is "characteristic of an administration trying to drive an aggressive climate agenda without alienating strategic constituencies and potential political allies." 

"There has been no drilling in ANWR except for a single test well in 1986. And although the Trump administration auctioned off 11 oil leases this past January, the Biden administration suspended them earlier this month, citing possible legal irregularities." But the administration also supports ConocoPhillips' Willow project, which "will be just as damaging to the climate and the Arctic environment as similar projects within ANWR would be," says Hewett. "The decarbonization of the economy that Biden is trying to instigate is profoundly at odds with Alaska's economic trajectory and the health of its state budget. The state's popular Permanent Fund, primarily reliant on oil and gas revenues, pays a dividend averaging roughly $1,600 annually to every resident."

According to Hewett, "Alaska may be viewed as a microcosm in which the tensions between economic growth, ecological preservation, fossil fuel exploitation and carbon reduction must eventually be resolved. Projects such as Willow will likely be around for decades, but, at least for now, ANWR is protected."

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