Willow drilling project in Alaska approved for ConocoPhillips

Aerial view of a frozen landscape with some oil drilling gear in the foreground.


Despite heavy opposition from environmentalists, the Biden administration on Monday announced approval of the controversial Willow oil drilling project in Alaska and it was welcome news to ConocoPhillips.

The administration also announced new limits on Arctic drilling in an apparent effort to temper criticism over the $8 billion Willow oil project, which has faced sharp opposition.

“This was the right decision for Alaska and our nation,” said Ryan Lance, ConocoPhillips chairman and chief executive officer.

“Willow fits within the Biden Administration’s priorities on environmental and social justice, facilitating the energy transition and enhancing our energy security, all while creating good union jobs and providing benefits to Alaska Native communities.”

According to a report by Open SecretsConocoPhillips spent $4.6 million on lobbying in the first three months of 2022 as it sought final approval for the delayed $8 billion oil project in Alaska’s federally-administered National Petroleum Reserve. The multimillion dollar lobbying blitz is the most the oil company has spent lobbying in a single quarter since 2011 and more than its total lobbying budget in most prior years.

It involved nearly 5 years of regulatory and environmental review allowing approval under the National Environmental Policy Act process. ConocoPhillips said Willow is designed to support and coexist with subsistence activities with many mitigation measures built into the project design.

Drilling led by ConocoPhillips will take place inside the National Petroleum-Reserve-Alaska which is located about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It is the country’s largest single expanse of pristine land and has no roads. ConocoPhillips will have the potential to produce more than 600 million barrels of crude over 30 years.

While the project was approved by President Biden, his Interior Department plans to issue new rules blocking oil and gas leases on more than 13 million of the 23 million acres that make up the Reserve.

The giant oil company said following the announcement it expects to immediately begin gravel road construction activities.

“We are truly grateful for the steadfast support from Alaska’s Congressional Delegation – Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Representative Mary Peltola – Alaska Native communities, the state legislature and organized labor groups,” Lance added. “We also thank our employees and the contractor community, who dedicated years to designing a project that will provide reliable energy while adhering to the highest environmental standards.”

Conoco Phillips said the Willow project is estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak, decreasing American dependence on foreign energy supplies. The project is projected to deliver between $8 billion to $17 billion in new revenue for the federal government, the state of Alaska and North Slope Borough communities.

Willow will be built using materials primarily made and sourced in the U.S. and has the potential to create over 2,500 construction jobs and approximately 300 long-term jobs.