The claim is that President Joe Biden just authorized massive new oil production by approving a project in Alaska. But in reality, Biden is shutting down much more oil production than he is approving, and in a region specifically designated by Congress for oil production.
Congress in 1976 designated an area of the barren northern Alaska tundra as the National Petroleum Reserve due to its prodigious oil reserves, its scarcity of affected human population, and its barren topographical and ecological status. In designating the land as a petroleum reserve, Congress explicitly authorized and encouraged production of oil in this region.
For three decades, ConocoPhillips has been planning and doing preparatory work on its Willow project in a small portion of the National Petroleum Reserve. The project survived four presidencies prior to the Biden administration, including the leftist Barack Obama presidency. But with his recent announcement, Biden is blocking two of the five production sites within the Willow project while also blocking from any oil production whatsoever an additional, even larger area of the National Petroleum Reserve.
The Biden administration and its allies are painting a picture of a pragmatic Biden standing up for American energy production at the expense of the left wing of the Democratic Party, but this picture is not accurate.
Biden’s action is far more punitive and stifling of Alaskan energy production than any action taken by any previous president, including Obama. Even Obama never had the audacity to impose such far-reaching restrictions on oil production in the designated National Petroleum Reserve. Biden’s action is akin to that of the vandal who claims he did you a favor by shattering only some of your house’s windows, leaving a few intact.
The Biden administration is mindful that in next year’s elections, Biden need not worry about a primary challenge from his political left. But he might be vulnerable in the general election for his war on domestic energy production. As a result, the Biden administration and its allies are launching a public-relations full-court press to describe these new, unprecedented energy production restrictions as a gift to American energy producers. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is howling in protest that Biden is allowing any oil production at all in the National Petroleum Reserve. Compliant media describe Biden’s new restrictions on oil production as a massive new energy allowance.
All of these grandstanding complaints further Biden’s political interests by deceptively painting him as the voice of reason, triangulated between conservatives on one side and the far Left of the Democratic Party on the other.
Just how extreme are Biden’s new restrictions? Consider that the Alaskan state legislature unanimously agreed to send the Biden administration a bipartisan letter supporting the Willow project and National Petroleum Reserve oil production. Consider that a consortium of indigenous peoples groups similarly allied together to support the Willow project. Even with such overwhelming bipartisan support for the Willow project, Biden slashed it almost in half and then completely torched additional, even more productive oil production projects in the same area.
If the goal of the Biden administration is to destroy American energy production at all costs, then Biden’s decision to gut the Willow project was a resounding success. If, however, the goal of American energy policy is to protect the domestic and global energy markets from increasing Iranian, Venezuelan, Saudi Arabian, Russian, and Chinese dominance, then Biden’s newest action is suicidal.
James Taylor is president of the Heartland Institute.