BLM proposes allowing ConocoPhillips to drill most of its Arctic Willow project

A map of the Willow development on Alaska's North Slope
This map shows the site of the Willow development on the North Slope of Alaska. The five originally proposed drill sites are marked by squares. (Bureau of Land Management)

The Bureau of Land Management announced Wednesday that it is inclined to allow ConocoPhillips to develop Willow, the company’s proposal for oil drilling on federal land in the Arctic, near the village of Nuiqsut.

The agency suggests trimming the proposal from five drill sites to three. That would mean roughly 219 wells, some 32 fewer than the company asked for.

The recommendations are in a planning document, called a final supplemental environmental impact statement.

The BLM’s parent agency, the Department of Interior, now has 30 days to issue a decision. Interior immediately emailed a statement pointing out that it still has the power to block Willow.

“The Department has substantial concerns about the Willow project and the preferred alternative as presented in the final SEIS, including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence,” the statement says.

Alaska’s congressional delegation, the governor and many North Slope leaders support Willow, saying it will bring needed jobs and revenue.

“For North Slope communities, more than $1 billion in property taxes paid to the North Slope Borough would help provide basic services like education, police, fire protection, and more,” reads an emailed statement from Nagruk Harcharek, president of the Voice of Arctic Iñupiat, a pro-development group funded largely by the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and the borough.

Environmental groups call Willow a “climate bomb.”

“This would be the largest single oil drilling project proposed anywhere in the U.S., and it is drastically out of step with the Biden administration’s goals to slash climate pollution and transition to clean energy,” Earthjustice attorney Jeremy Lieb said in an emailed statement.

The city and tribe of Nuiqsut also oppose the development.

RELATED: This is no refuge: Arctic drilling foes have a challenge rallying against Willow project

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Lizhere.

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