Willow project approved, striking controversies within public

Impacts Willow will have on the environment


Graphic by Tiger Times staff.

Impacts Willow will have on the environment.

    On Monday, March 13, the Biden administration approved ConocoPhillips’ ‘Willow project’. It is a massive oil drilling venture on Alaska’s north slope in the National Petroleum Reserve. It holds about 600 million oil barrels, according to CNN. The venture is roughly the size of Indiana. ConocoPhillips originally proposed five drill site pads, but the administration approved only three pads. 

    According to ConocoPhillips, the Willow project is estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak. This decreases America’s dependence on importing oil. It is also projected to deliver between $8 billion to $17 billion in new revenue for the federal, local and state governments. The approval also opens up the potential to create over 2,500 construction jobs and 300 long-term employment opportunities.

    Approval of this project has brought about a lot of controversy and complaints to the president. Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of conservation groups to keep this project from moving forward. According to EarthJustice, an organization consisting of environmental lawyers, and CNN, more than 5 million people are against the project, and the White House has received over 1 million letters from the public expressing disagreement. Furthermore, over 4.6 million people have signed a change.org petition, as of March 21.

    As a part of Biden’s 2020 election campaign, he pledged to ban “new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters,” and the Willow project being approved is showcasing the exact opposite. At the beginning of his term, he spoke of ambitious plans to combat climate change, the ideal of moving away from fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy. President Biden also signed the U.S. back into the Paris agreement, which entirely revolves around combating climate change and lowering carbon emissions into the atmosphere. A green light on the Willow project is negating all the ideals and development from the government. 

    There are some positive effects that come with the approval of the Willow project. Alaska needs development and oil. According to Alaska lawmakers, the Russia-Ukraine war squeezed global oil markets, making Alaska’s economy heavily dependent on drilling. The employment opportunities created by this also boosts the economy.

    “This was the right decision for Alaska and our nation,” Ryan Lance, ConocoPhillips chairman and chief executive officer, said. “Willow fits within the Biden Administration’s priorities on environmental and social justice, facilitating the energy transition and enhancing our energy security, all while creating good union jobs and providing benefits to Alaska Native communities.”

    The Willow project does fit in with the administration’s plan of creating job opportunities, but in no way does it with respect to environmental justice. It does not facilitate the energy transition, since it is further developing oil energy, instead of moving away from oil and towards renewable sources. 

    However, there are reasons behind the ferocity from environmentalists around the country. According to EarthJustice, Alaska is warming three times faster than the rest of the world. On top of that, the Willow project results in covering up three million acres in the Arctic Ocean in order to construct a necessary gravel mine, processing facility, airstrips and hundreds of miles of roads and pipelines, according to the Washington Post

    “It is projected to release 260 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, so that is like putting 56 million cars on the road, or 69 coal-fired power plants for one year,” Erik Grafe from EarthJustice told Aljazeera.

    The construction and the project itself not only poses harm to the environment in that way, but also through destroying the habitat of multiple species, resulting in heavy carbon emissions, worsening the climate crisis of Alaska.

    “It’s a place that is critically important for wildlife,” John D. Podesta, a top White House climate adviser, said at the annual Houston energy conference.

    The area is home to Teshekpuk Lake, a 22-mile-wide reservoir that lies about 70 miles west. The lake is home to thousands of migrating caribou, roughly 600,000 shorebirds, over 78,000 molting geese, polar bears and other species.

    Oil is a nonrenewable fossil fuel resource, meaning it takes millions of years to replenish. It is also not an eco-friendly energy source when it comes to emissions. Fracking, the process of extracting oil from deep underground, releases a lot of greenhouse gasses, and pollutes groundwater. Moreover, using oil also emits carbon dioxide, a leading cause of climate change. Transportation of oil is also very tricky and can lead to oil spills, again, harming the environment. With all the negative effects oil has on our surroundings and future, it is believed that transitioning into using renewable, eco-friendly energy sources like solar and wind power.

    ConocoPhillips claims that Willow would help address inflation and energy costs. But, the United States is already the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration. They also declare that it will help decrease inflation, but that is incorrect since it will take years for the project to yield any oil.

    The Biden administration also said it plans to consider additional protections for the area within the petroleum reserve.

    But, considering protecting the region is not enough, actual restrictions need to be put in place. First of all, it should not even have been approved, stating all the impacts it has on the environment. The concerns it fulfills can also be satisfied through other methods. The administration could open up employment opportunities in many more ways other than this. This was a perfect opportunity for the country to stop and think if we really need oil, and if we could replace it with other renewable and environment-friendly energy sources. 

    “We are too late in the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden Administration committed to advancing,” Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen said.

    As a nation, we need to progress in conserving the environment and combating the climate crisis. Instead, with projects like these, we are backtracking on all the developments we have made. With the advancing climate change situation, it was definitely not the best idea to approve the Willow project, since the negative impacts outweigh the positive impacts.