ConocoPhillips supercharged its federal lobbying operation in 2022 as it sought final approval for the controversial Willow oil drilling project on federal government owned land in Alaska that President Joe Biden’s administration authorized on Monday.
The president’s own climate rhetoric, the health risks and environmental damage are all reasons to reject this terrible fossil fuel scheme, but ConocoPhillips spent $8.7 million on federal lobbying last year, about double compared to 2021 and the most the multinational oil company spent on lobbying in more than a decade, an OpenSecrets analysis of federal lobbying disclosures found.
Issues lobbied range from taxation to oil and gas regulations writ-large, and disclosures filed by the Texas-based company specifically mention lobbying the federal government for authorization to build its long-delayed project.
Willow initially received federal permits in the final months of former President Donald Trump‘s administration, but a judge found flaws in the government’s environmental impact assessment and halted development in 2021. Climate activists, who said the project undercuts Biden’s goal of reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, urged the administration to block development permanently.
The $8 billion project expands the company’s footprint in Alaska westward into the nearly 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve, the largest tract of public land in the U.S. The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for approving oil and gas development on federally-managed land, greenlit a scaled-back version of ConocoPhillips’ plan, allowing for three drilling sites instead of the five proposed.
In its final decision, the bureau noted the approved plan would still allow Willow to produce an estimated 576 million barrels of oil over three decades. Transporting, refining and burning that oil will release the equivalent of 239 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over three decades, about the same amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by 64 coal-fired power plants in a year.
Alaska’s elected officials say the project will create jobs and bring billions of dollars in revenue to the state. Earlier this month, all three members of the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation — Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola — made their case for the project during a meeting with the president.
Several Democratic members of Congress urged the administration to reject Willow in a March 3 letter, citing the threat it poses to the climate and local Indigenous communities. But Peltola — the first Alaska Native elected to Congress — has said Alaskans must be provided with economic opportunities if the global transition is to be fair.
Murkowski, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is among a handful of moderate Republicans with whom the Biden administration has worked in search of bipartisanship. She has also been one of Willow’s most vocal advocates in Washington, D.C., while recognizing the need to move away from fossil fuels.
In a statement following the administration’s decision to approve Willow, Murkowski said Alaska was “now on the cusp of creating thousands of new jobs, generating billions of dollars in new revenues, improving quality of life on the North Slope.”
Lobbying disclosures show ConocoPhillips’ representatives on Capitol Hill share close ties to the senior senator. The company’s senior vice president of government affairs Andrew Lundquist and in-house lobbyist Kjersten Drager were both former aides to former Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), Lisa Murkowski’s father.
ConocoPhillips also has a long-standing relationship with Bluewater Strategies, a lobbying firm that specializes in energy, environment and natural resource issues. In 2013, the firm hired McKie Campbell, who was the staff director of the Senate Energy Committee from 2008 to 2012 under then-chair Murkowski. Campbell also sits on the executive board of ConservAmerica, a group of conservative conservationists whose congressional caucus is co-chaired by Murkowski and includes Sullivan, Alaska’s other U.S. senator.
In 2022, ConocoPhillips paid Bluewater Strategies $210,000 to lobby the federal government on several issues related to oil and gas, including “exploration and development” in Alaska.
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