Statement: Interior Dept. to protect up to 16 million Arctic acres but approves destructive Willow Project

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The Department of Interior approved the much-debated Willow Project Monday. ConocoPhillips’ Western Arctic project will blight pristine land with new drill sites, bridges, an airstrip, hundreds of miles of roads and a gravel mine.

The Willow Project decision came less than 24 hours after the Department of the Interior announced plans to end drilling in 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean. The administration said it will also begin a process to protect up to 13 million acres of habitat for Western Arctic wildlife. This rulemaking process will likely include a public comment period.

In response to these decisions, Environment America Public Lands Campaign Director Ellen Montgomery issued the following statement:

“The Arctic environment is fragile. The ocean supports polar bears and beluga whales and the landscape is home to caribou and thousands of migratory birds. Cleaning up spills in the unique and sensitive Arctic is almost impossible; we should never drill there. But with two conflicting announcements, the Biden administration is sending mixed messages about the value of this invaluable ecosystem.

“We welcome the news that there will be no drilling in 2.8 million acres of the Arctic Ocean. And the opportunity to protect another 13 million acres in the Arctic is very exciting. We expect our supporters and allies to engage in the upcoming rulemaking process and show overwhelming support for protecting these areas.

“However, the Biden administration has made the wrong decision in approving the Willow Project. Building roads, gravel pits and well pads in the Arctic so that we can extract oil is short-sighted. We rapidly are moving toward a future powered by clean energy, so we will not need the oil this project would produce. There is no good reason to destroy this area.”