President Biden Approves the Willow Project

Sophia Kennedy, Contributing Writer

A petition titled “Say No to the Willow Project” has been exponentially amassing signatures towards its goal of 3 million, while the hashtag #StopWillow has been circulating social media. These protests attempt to halt the Willow Project: a $6 billion oil and gas drilling venture on Alaska’s North Slope proposed by ConocoPhillips, a petroleum refineries company.

This project could produce around 600 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years which is why Alaska’s lawmakers say that it will bring in job opportunities and increase the state’s revenue, possibly generating $17 billion. However, climate advocacy groups have labeled it a “carbon bomb,” estimating that it would release around 278 million metric tons of carbon pollution over the next three decades, “which is more than 70 coal-fired power plants could produce in a year,” according to CNN. If the Biden administration approves the plan, it could sour Biden’s climate credibility after his campaign pledged to end new oil drilling on federal lands. To combat criticism, the Biden administration is looking to reduce the number of drilling pads from five to two. 

ConocoPhillips’s plan outlines drilling on delicate permafrost and constructing “chilling tubes” to keep their network frozen as the Arctic warms faster than anywhere else in the world. The Bureau of Land Management stated that with the proposed hundreds of miles of roads and pipes through Alaska’s wilderness, ConocoPhillips would need to reduce their plan by 12% to protect a yellow-billed loon nesting site and caribou herd migration paths, shrinking the project’s footprint in Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, which is important ecological and Indigenous land. The smallest potential plan for the Willow Project includes 482 acres of gravel fill, 400+ miles of ice roads, and approximately 89 miles of pipelines.

Climate advocacy groups have labeled it a “carbon bomb.”

However, the Willow Project is not new. ConocoPhillips received permits for the large-scale version of the plan under the Trump Administration, but environmentalists sued and a federal judge blocked permits due to the government not properly assessing the environmental impacts drilling the oil would cause.

The greenhouse gas emissions of it all could have a negative impact on wildlife and Alaska Native communities, although Alaska Natives are divided on the subject. Some support the Willow Project as Alaska Natives will get a piece of the revenue and possible job opportunities, reducing poverty and increasing generational wealth. Others, such as Rosemary Ahtuangarauk, say the project would only cause more problems for her community. Ahtuangarauk is the mayor of Nuiqsut, an Inupiat village of which members had to evacuate their homes due to a gas leak from another nearby ConocoPhillips project last year. She traveled to Washington to discuss with lawmakers that the Willow Project intrudes on the habitat of migratory birds, whales, and caribou, all of which the Indigenous locals depend on for fishing and hunting to support themselves. Indigenous model and activist Quannah Chasinghorse has taken to social media and has written for CNN, urging Biden to overturn the project. ConocoPhillips could pursue legal options if Biden denies the project, but Biden’s support from environmentalists is on thin ice, and the project is still under deliberation.

Since this article was written, the Biden administration has approved the Willow Project on March 13th after months of deliberation.

This article also appears in our March 2023 print edition.