US Department of the Interior has approved a scaled-back version of ConocoPhillips’ Willow Master Development Plan in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). (Earlier post.) The Record of Decision (ROD) reduces the size of the project by denying two of the original five drill sites proposed by ConocoPhillips, which is seeking to develop oil and gas leases it acquired beginning in the late 1990s. The company will also relinquish rights to approximately 68,000 acres of its existing leases in the NPR-A, including approximately 60,000 acres in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area.
ConocoPhillips expects to initiate gravel road construction activities immediately. The company continues to review the ROD and will advance internal approval processes towards a Final Investment Decision.
The Project as approved in the ROD includes only drill sites BT1, BT2 and BT3 and associated infrastructure—the Willow Processing Facility (WPF), Willow Operations Center (WOC), and airstrip. Gravel roads will connect to all Project infrastructure and will extend from the Greater Mooses Tooth 2 (GMT-2) development southwest toward the Project area. As approved in the ROD, the Project will include up to 199 total wells, four valve pads, three pipeline pads, five water source access pads, pipelines to support project infrastructure, and up to three subsistence-use boat ramps. BT2 will be located north of Fish Creek to gain access to a portion of the target reservoir.
The Willow project is estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak. 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 US and has the potential to create more than 2,500 construction jobs and approximately 300 long-term jobs.
The relinquishment of 68,000 acres by the company of its existing northernmost and southernmost leases within the Bear Tooth Unit reduces the Bear Tooth Unit’s footprint in the NPR-A by one-third. This reduces the project’s freshwater use and eliminates all infrastructure related to the two rejected drill sites, including approximately 11 miles of roads, 20 miles of pipelines, and 133 acres of gravel, all of which reduces potential impacts to caribou migration and subsistence users, DOI said.
The Interior Department separately initiated a rulemaking, which will be available for public comment in the coming months, to consider additional protections for the more than 13 million acres designated as Special Areas in recognition of their importance to wildlife and subsistence uses. The rule would limit future oil and gas leasing and industrial development in the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay Special Areas.
President Biden will also take action to designate approximately 2.8 million acres in the Arctic Ocean nearshore the NPR-A as indefinitely off limits for future oil and gas leasing. This action will complete protections for the entire Beaufort Sea Planning Area.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was required to undertake a review of the proposed Willow project in order to address the flaws identified by the US District Court for the District of Alaska in its August 2021 vacatur of the previous administration’s approval of a project with five drill pads. In February, the BLM published a final supplemental environmental impact statement identifying a preferred alternative that removed one of the five proposed drill pads from consideration and deferred consideration of another.