Statement on Willow project approval and future plans for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska

Mar 13, 2023

DENVER—The Biden administration today announced its approval of ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil and gas project in Alaska, a “carbon bomb” that is projected to produce up to 287 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years. Last night, the administration announced a proposed rulemaking to end future oil and gas lease sales in parts of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). 

The Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Executive Director Jennifer Rokala:

“With today’s decision, President Biden has dug himself a massive hole when it comes to public lands and the energy transition. If the Biden administration is serious about their commitments to address the climate and nature crises, it’s imperative that the president double down on durable, meaningful action. There are three things he must do right now:


“First, he must fast-track a rulemaking to end all future oil and gas lease sales throughout the rest of the NPR-A. This would protect millions of acres of pristine wilderness-quality lands that are home to more than 500,000 caribou and the largest concentration of grizzly bears in the rapidly thawing Alaskan Arctic. Oil and gas companies are already sitting on millions of acres of public land in the region. Protecting the largest tract of undisturbed public lands in the U.S. must be a priority.

“Second, the Interior department must codify its implementation of the oil and gas leasing reforms in the Inflation Reduction Act. The IRA overhauled a rigged and broken system, but making those reforms durable will require a concerted effort across his administration to ensure a rule is finalized by spring of 2024.

“Finally, to salvage a conservation legacy commensurate with his commitments, the president must use his executive authority to offset the damage from Willow. If he hopes to reach his goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030, he will need every tool available, including the Antiquities Act, to protect public lands. The Willow decision shows the administration is willing to hand our public lands over to oil and gas CEOs while it leaves places like Avi Kwa Ame in Nevada and Castner Range in El Paso unprotected. That must change today.”


Since 1999, oil and gas companies have leased more than 8.5 million acres of public land in the NPR-A. Since 2014, the Interior department has offered nearly 24 million acres in the NPR-A across seven lease sales, and companies leased less than 11 percent of that. In other words, oil and gas companies have been offered nearly every acre that could potentially produce oil in the NPR-A, and they’re just not interested in growing their stockpile.

Over 100 days ago, at the White House Tribal Nations Summit, President Biden pledged to protect Nevada’s Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain, as a national monument. Even though the president will be in Las Vegas next week for a million-dollar fundraiser, the White House abandoned plans to sign the monument proclamation.

Learn more

(Feature photo: Teshekpuk Caribou, Northeast National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Bob Wick, BLM)