OPINION: ConocoPhillips’ Willow Master Development Plan in Alaska, after being stuck in permitting limbo for years, has finally been approved in a reduced capacity by US President Joe Biden’s administration.

At the same time, the administration announced protections for up to 16 million acres of land and water in Alaska from new drilling projects.

The dual announcement begs the question: Where does the Biden administration truly stand on fossil fuels?

There are clear politics at play here. Policymakers have been advocating for and against the 180,000 barrels per day of oil Willow project — one side claiming it will support growing energy needs and bring in revenue for Alaska citizens, the other denouncing it as a destruction of any progress toward goals of net zero emissions.

Balancing needs

The US Department of the Interior could have certainly rejected the Willow project, or at least reduced it enough that it was no longer economically viable for operator ConocoPhillips.

But they approved it. And announced no more drilling in much of Alaska’s federal lands.

It’s very possible this was simply an attempt to balance the needs of energy security with the goals of the energy transition, but with rhetoric for or against fossil fuels running rampant in US politics, it is hard to know where the Biden administration truly stands.

Questions like this wouldn’t even be relevant if rhetoric didn’t rule the political conversation.

If the Biden administration wants its intentions to be clear, it has to be transparent about its vision, even if it goes against its own party.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)

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