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U.S. approves Willow oil project in Alaska despite climate impact

The U.S. administration is approving a scaled-back version of ConocoPhillips’ USD 7 billion oil and gas drilling project in Alaska, according to a U.S. Department of Interior document released on Monday.

The decision comes despite an aggressive campaign from opponents who say the development of the three drill sites in northwestern Alaska conflicts with efforts to fight climate change.

The project’s fate has been closely watched by Alaska officials, the oil and gas industry, and green groups as President Joe Biden seeks to balance his goals of decarbonizing the U.S. economy with calls to increase domestic fuel supplies to keep prices low.

ConocoPhillips had sought to build up to five drill sites, dozens of miles of roads, seven bridges, and pipelines. However, the Interior Department approved the project with three drill pads after saying last month that it was concerned about the greenhouse gas impacts of Willow.

In February, Alaska’s Bureau of Land Management recommended a “preferred alternative” that includes three drill sites and less surface infrastructure than initially proposed.

ConocoPhillips and Alaska elected officials endorsed that version of the project, which the agency has said would reduce the impact on habitats for species like polar bears and yellow-billed loons.

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