The Biden administration’s approval of a massive oil development in northern Alaska commits the U.S. to yet another decadeslong crude project even as scientists urgently warn that only a halt to more fossil fuel emissions can stem climate change.

ConocoPhillips’ Willow project would produce 180,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak, and using that crude would result in at least 263 million tons (239 million metric tons) of greenhouse gas emissions over 30 years.

Demand for oil isn’t dropping as the planet heats, and a bitter political dispute over the project, which was approved Monday, has underscored the Democratic administration’s struggle to balance economic pressures against pledges to curb fossil fuels. The proposal in the remote region north of the Arctic Circle also highlights the paradox facing the U.S. and other nations: The world’s transition to clean energy lags behind the reality of an economy still largely driven by oil consumption.

“At some point, we have to leave oil and gas and coal in the ground. And for me, that some point is now — particularly in a vulnerable ecosystem like the Arctic,” said Rob Jackson, a climate scientist at Stanford University.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, in announcing Willow’s approval, stressed that the number of drill pads was reduced by 40% from ConocoPhillips’ original proposal, which she said would benefit people and wildlife. But the company still is expected to get most of the oil it wanted, resulting in only an 8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, according to government estimates.

For Alaska, the project promises an economic boost after oil production dropped sharply since the late 1980s. Leaders from both parties in the state united behind it. Oil has long been the state’s economic lifeblood, with revenues helping remote communities and villages on Alaska’s petroleum-rich North Slope.

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But the state also has felt the impacts of climate change: coastal erosion is threatening Indigenous villages, unusual wildfires are popping up, sea ice is thinning and permafrost promises to release carbon as it melts.

Attorneys representing environmentalists and an Alaska Native group filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking a federal judge to block Willow’s approval. The Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Sierra Club and other groups said Interior officials ignored the fact that every ton of greenhouse gasses emitted by the project would contribute to sea ice melt, which endangers polar bears and Alaskan villages.

The International Energy Agency has said new drilling investments must be halted if nations, including the U.S., hope to reach their 2050 goal of net-zero emissions, meaning only as much planet-warming gas is released into the atmosphere as can be absorbed.

The energy sector accounts for 90% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and three-quarters of the total human-made greenhouse gases.

Yet global demand for crude is expected to continue rising, according to industry analysts and the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Instead of targeting domestic supplies of those fuels — including projects like Willow — energy expert Jim Krane said policymakers should focus on …read more

Source:: News Headlines


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