US DOI issues ROD for reduced Willow oil project in Alaska

14 March 2023

The US Department of the Interior (DOI) has delivered a Record of Decision (ROD) for ConocoPhillips’ proposed Willow oil project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A).

ConocoPhillips expects the Willow project to have a peak production of 180,000 barrels of oil per day. (Credit: Anita starzycka from Pixabay)

The size of the project has been reduced from five drill site pads to three, reducing the drill pads of the Willow oil project by 40%, said the department.

ConocoPhillips has been aiming to develop oil and gas leases it acquired since the late 1990s. At its peak, the Willow project is estimated to yield 180,000 barrels of oil per day, while generating more than 2,500 construction roles and 300 long-term jobs.

The project was approved in late 2020. But, it was stalled due to a court challenge that resulted in the US District Court for Alaska vacating the previously issued ROD on environmental grounds.

With the new ROD issued by the DOI for the reduced project, ConocoPhillips will give up its rights to nearly 68,000 acres of its existing leases in the NPR-A. These include around 60,000 acres in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area.

The relinquishment of its existing northernmost and southernmost leases located in the Bear Tooth Unit reduces the company’s footprint in the NPR-A region by around 33%.

According to the DOI, the relinquishment brings down the use of freshwater by the project and removes all infrastructure associated with the two rejected drill sites. These include nearly 18km of roads, 32km of pipelines, and 133 acres of gravel, and their removal will reduce possible impact on the migration of caribou and subsistence users, said DOI.

The department stated: “The actions will create an additional buffer from exploration and development activities near the calving grounds and migratory routes for the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd, an important subsistence resource for nearby Alaska Native communities.

“They significantly scale-back the Willow Project within the constraints of valid existing rights under decades-old leases issued by prior Administrations.”

The ROD follows the announcement of certain measures by the Biden-Harris administration to restrict future industrial development in the NPR-A.

ConocoPhillips said that it has wrapped up extensive preparations with major contractors and expects to immediately begin construction activities for gravel roads. The company added that it will continue to study the ROD and will take its internal approval processes forward towards a final investment decision.

ConocoPhillips chairman and CEO Ryan Lance said: “This was the right decision for Alaska and our nation.

“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.”

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