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Biden administration backs Alaska oil drilling project approved under Trump

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Biden administration defended a proposed ConocoPhillips oil development in Alaska on Wednesday. (File photo)

The administration of President Joe Biden defended a proposed ConocoPhillips oil development in Alaska on Wednesday, supporting the project approved under the administration of former president Donald Trump.

"A Wednesday filing by the US Department of Justice continues to defend a 2020 Record of Decision for the Willow Project in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A)," a spokesman of the US Interior Department said in an email.

The project was pushed by Alaskan Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the centrist lawmaker the administration has wooed as a potential swing vote.

The move to defend the Trump administration’s October 2020 decision would allow the Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to proceed.

Permits to mine for gravel and build roads were issued on Jan. 20, just before Biden was sworn in as the new US president.

The latest decision by the Biden administration comes despite the president himself issuing a moratorium blocking the project on his first day in office and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland opposing the project when she was a Congress member in 2020.

Murkowski and another Alaskan Republican Sen., Dan Sullivan, discussed the project during an Oval Office meeting with Biden on Monday.

Sullivan said he left behind information on the project and the Democratic president promised to get back to him shortly.

“I talked extensively with the president on the Willow project,” Sullivan told POLITICO on Wednesday. “I told him ‘It hasn’t been controversial until you guys put a pause on it.’”

Also in February, an appeals court blocked construction of ConocoPhillips' $2 billion-plus Willow crude oil project.

Environmental groups had previously filed lawsuits against the project, arguing drilling there would have a detrimental impact on fragile wildlife.

The Willow project, which consists of five wells, holds 590 million barrels of recoverable oil and collectively could produce up to 160,000 barrels of oil a day as soon as 2024, according to ConocoPhillips' previous estimates.

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