Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s order suspending oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) came as a big relief. ANWR has been fought over, with the oil industry, since the 1960s. When Republicans are in power, it is in danger of succumbing to oil and gas development. When the Democrats take power, it has been saved. Donald Trump opened it up in the last days of his presidency. Joe Biden is moving to save it. Analysis suggests there is only enough oil there to supply the U.S. with six months’ worth of fossil fuels, all of which would contribute to global warming.
ANWR is the last vast, untouched wilderness in the U.S. It is the last place in North America where Native Americans (the Gwich’in), as a way of life, follow and rely on migrating herbivores (caribou) for both food and spiritual sustenance. Unequivocally, it should be preserved as a functioning wilderness untouched by human development. It should not, however, be used as a smokescreen to hide the fact that “just down the road,” in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the Biden administration is inexplicably supporting new oil and gas development-the Willow project. Over 30 years, Willow would produce up to 200,000 million barrels of oil per day, releasing approximately 260 million tons of CO2 emissions, once consumed.
President Biden affirmed his commitment to fighting global warming by rejoining the Paris Climate Accords, and his massive push for electric cars and EV charging infrastructure. He acknowledged fossil fuels as a primary cause of global warming by stopping drilling on all federal lands, and now moving to save ANWR, which is part of Alaska’s land base. He can’t have it both ways. He’s either fighting global warming or he’s not.
The United States doesn’t need more oil, it needs more renewable energy. With the development of its massive shale deposits, the U.S. is flush with oil and gas (oil shale is conservatively estimated at 2.6 trillion barrels). Because of new technologies, fresh crude sources in North Dakota alone, rose by 25,000 barrels a day to 1.108 million barrels a day. What we do need is full support for the transition from oil and gas to renewable energy. If we, and the rest of the world, fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), there is no question planet Earth will reach the 1.5°C “tipping point” increase in global temperature between 2030 and 2032. This will trigger massive destruction of the world’s environment.
The Biden administration’s legal brief supporting Willow says the Trump administration complied with environmental rules, and “Conoco [the developer] does have valid lease rights.” The ironies of this, which should end this project, include Secretary Holland, herself a Native American, having opposed the project as a member of Congress, and ConocoPhillips wanting to install chillers (cooling devices), in the ground, because global warming has melted the permafrost.
Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the U.S. due to climate change. That warming has reached the point where the ground is not firm enough to hold the infrastructure needed to drill for oil. Last February, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals halted construction on the project finding it likely that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had underestimated Willow’s greenhouse gas emissions. When Alaska intervened in the case, arguing the drilling should go forward, that rationale should have been all the Biden administration needed to oppose the project, and for the President to issue an executive order stopping it. More GHG emissions means more, not less, global warming.
Our world has always experienced massive shifts in infrastructure and, therefore, human behavior. These have included: the horse and buggy to the automobile, kerosene lamps to electricity, and the typewriter to the computer. Each of these shifts put some people out of work and created new industries for others. We are in another one of those seminal transitions: fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Clearly, fossil fuel workers (oil and gas, and coal) displaced by the transition have to be assisted with the change. This support should include post fossil fuel job training, and, if necessary, subsidies to help them through the transition.
Climate change is the existential threat facing our world. The Biden administration knows this. The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that even half a degree rise in global temperature will significantly increase the risks of: infectious disease, extreme heat, wild fires, drought, desertification, fresh water shortage, floods, sea level rise, severe storms, poverty, and the dislocation of hundreds of millions of people.
Stopping climate change and fossil fuel development don’t mix. Biden should stop Willow.