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Biden to announce Arctic Ocean protections as administration weighs controversial Willow oil project

President Biden is expected to prohibit oil and gas leasing across the entirety of the United States' territory in the Arctic Ocean, an administration official confirmed on Sunday. 

Mr. Biden intends to announce the new declaration on Monday, the official told CBS News. It will come during the first day of his upcoming trip to California, which will see the president visit San Diego to discuss AUKUS, the nuclear submarine partnership between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, before traveling to Monterey Park to discuss gun violence in the city where 11 people were shot and killed at a dance studio in January.

The Biden administration will also announce its plans to issue new rules protecting more than 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska from oil and gas leasing when the president unveils his Arctic drilling declaration, the administration official said. The anticipated protections will extend to the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay Special Areas. 

When taken together, the areas covered under both conservation actions will include more than 16 million acres of land and water in Alaska. The administration hopes these restrictions will serve as a "fire wall" that will block future gas leasing and expansion across federal lands and waters in the U.S. Arctic Ocean and on the North Slope of Alaska, the official said, a region that is rich in petroleum and currently the focus of a mounting national controversy.

CORRECTION Biden Drilling
This 2019 aerial photo provided by ConocoPhillips shows an exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project on Alaska's North Slope. ConocoPhillips via AP, File

Drilling regulations will be unveiled as climate activists wait for Mr. Biden to issue a decision on the Willow project, which the administration official said is coming soon. The project, introduced by the petroleum refinery company ConocoPhillips, would allow for drilling across a federal oil reserve in the North Slope of Alaska called the Willow oil field. According to ConocoPhillips, the Willow project could potentially yield up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day, equating to about 1.5% of the total U.S. oil production.

There is bipartisan support for the Willow project, the Associated Press reported last week, adding that some indigenous groups in the area also support the proposed drilling plan for its potential economic benefits. While ConocoPhillips originally proposed five drilling sites in the Willow oil field, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said in February that reducing that number to three sites would be a "preferred alternative." 

Still, the proposed drilling project has come under fire from environmental advocates, whose concerns about how the Willow project could drive up carbon emissions and contribute to ongoing climate change sparked a viral social media trend, #StopWillow, last week. 

Climate advocates argue that even three drilling sites would produce an estimated 278 million tons of greenhouse gases over the course of 30 years, which is ConocoPhillips' proposed timeline for the Willow project. That emissions volume is roughly the same amount two million cars would generate over the same time period.

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