The Biden administration has issued their decision on ConocoPhillips’ proposed Willow Project. In case you haven’t heard about it yet, this is a huge long-term oil drilling investment by the petroleum refinery company in the northernmost borough of Alaska that would produce over an estimated 600 million barrels of oil, and close to 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere over the next 30 years. This is equivalent to emissions from roughly 70 coal fired power plants, or from 56 million vehicles over one year – a “carbon bomb” some have labeled – and the President has signed off on its approval.
This is a major setback in President Biden’s commitment to end oil drilling on federal land, a pledge campaigned during his 2020 election season. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released their final environmental impact statement last month, recommending a reduction in the number of drilling pads from five to three, and the planting of trees to offset the carbon emissions. With the increase in pushback from the public and environmental groups this past year, the administration considered lowering the scope of the project to two pads, however, ultimately stuck with three to make it economically viable. Even with the newly announced protections of the U.S. Arctic Ocean and surrounding land surface, this will not prevent the degradation caused by oil drilling.
So, what are they saying in Alaska? The conversation is rather divided in the state, with the voice of legislators seeming to dominate. Major arguments in support of this development are concerned with the potential for massive revenues, job opportunities, and domestic energy production that would benefit the state. They are looking towards the estimated $1.25 billion in taxes to fund infrastructure improvements, and another $2.5 billion for a grant program for community initiatives to frame the Willow Project as a net benefit. One coalition of Alaska Native groups has extended their support, regarding this as an opportunity to gain basic services such as education, healthcare, and law enforcement.
On the other side, previously impacted residents of past ConocoPhillips ventures urged the President to reject any form of this project. The city of Nuiqsut, the closest residential area in proximity to the proposed site of the new drilling pads, is heavily concerned about the health and environmental risks posed. Just last year, the company’s oil field at the Alpine Central Facility had a methane gas leak, eight miles away from Nuiqsut. This prompted some of the 500 residents to flee the area, and now they are worried the Willow Project will bring even more dangers.
In any case, developing the Arctic Alaska for oil drilling purposes will threaten our global atmosphere, the local wildlife of the region, and push the global ice caps beyond the point of return. Many petitions have been passed through social media to urge the administration to put an end to the project; the #StopWillow campaign on Tiktok has reached over 50 million views, landing itself on the trending page where anybody on the platform can engage with it. Environmental organizations are preparing to challenge this decision legally, and we encourage you to stay up to date on this topic as we continue the fight against climate change.