Biden issues limits on oil drilling in Alaska, Arctic Ocean

US President Joe Biden will bar drilling in nearly 1.2 million ha of the Arctic Ocean. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden’s administration on Sunday announced new steps to ban oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and limit onshore drilling in Alaska, to protect whales, seals, polar bears, grizzly bears and caribou.

The announcement comes as Mr Biden is expected to approve ConocoPhillips’ massive Willow oil project, fiercely opposed by environmentalists, in north-west Alaska.

Mr Biden will make nearly 1.2 million ha of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean “indefinitely off-limits” for oil and gas leasing, building on an Obama-era ban and effectively closing off US Arctic waters to oil exploration.

In addition to the drilling ban, the government will put forward new protections for more than 5.3 million ha of ecologically sensitive “special areas” within Alaska’s petroleum reserve, the administration said in a statement on Sunday.

The area includes the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay special areas.

The plan comes as Mr Biden tries to balance his goals of decarbonising the US economy with calls to increase domestic fuel supply to keep prices low.

The Willow project would be located inside the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, a 9.3 million ha area on the state’s North Slope, which is the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States.

An environmental group said the new protections announced on Sunday did not go far enough, and the government should stop oil and gas developments to help fight climate change.

“It’s insulting that Biden thinks this will change our minds about the Willow project,” said Ms Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Centre for Biological Diversity.

“Protecting one area of the Arctic so you can destroy another doesn’t make sense, and it won’t help the people and wildlife who will be upended by the Willow project,” she said.

On Friday, the White House pushed back on reports that Mr Biden will authorise the project as soon as this week, saying a decision had not been made yet. REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.