By Alvin Paul
On March 13, 2023, the Biden administration announced its approval of the ConocoPhillips' Willow Project, a $7 billion proposal for drilling oil and gas in Alaska. The project is located in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, a 23 million acre area on the state's North Slope and the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States. However, the project’s approval has garnered significant criticism from climate activists, with many emphasizing the large impact the project will have on the environment.
The Willow Project was initially proposed and approved during the Trump Administration, but in 2021, an Alaskan federal judge reversed that decision, claiming the environmental analysis was flawed and needed to be redone. After negotiations with the Biden Administration, the project was approved, but the original proposal of five drilling pads had to be shrunk down to three drilling pads. ConocoPhillips also had to relinquish rights to 68,000 acres of existing leases.
Source by Lindsay Kim
Activists against the Willow Project argue that it conflicts with the Biden Administration's commitment to fighting climate change and increasing environmental awareness.
As of right now, the Willow Project is the largest oil and gas drilling venture in the United States, with some estimates predicting that the project would cost somewhere between $8 billion to $10 billion, and would produce 576 million barrels of oil over 30 years. However, this venture comes with a hefty cost, as the project is projected to release 239 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Some people have been supportive of the project for the potential benefits it could have on the Alaskan economy. Projections estimate the project would create 2,500 jobs, help supplant U.S. oil gas exploration and decrease dependence on foreign oil and gas imports.
However, many people have been vocal about the impact that such a large project could have on Alaska and the United States. Taking the project’s carbon emission predictions into consideration, the project could potentially cause more harm in the Arctic, which has already been affected by climate change. Numerous movements have argued this point to begin fighting this decision. Earthjustice, a nonprofit, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit on behalf of the country’s conservation group to halt the Willow Project. There has also been a large amount of youth activism regarding the project. A change.org petition to halt drilling has amassed over 5 million signatures, and millions of letters have been sent to the White House in support of halting Willow. Closer to home, students and teachers have also been hypothesizing what they can do in response to the project.
“I think the goal here is to wean ourselves entirely off fossil fuels as quickly as we can. Politically, you can’t just cut off the valve due to the backlash, so we just need to wean ourselves off it. The answers to all of this lie in the subtlety of nuance in environment policy. Shutting it all off would be too hurtful to the economy and to literally heating our homes. Take for example, how we weaned ourselves off of burning whale oil and wood a century ago. We moved on because we saw there was a better way,” social studies chairperson Mr. Galvin said.
NHP’s clubs have also been reacting to the approval of the Willow Project.
“I personally believe that the Willow Project should not continue to drill. It is possible that with enough time and effort, we will be able to achieve the same objectives without the catastrophic effects the Willow Project has on the environment,” Sierra Club President Hannah Joji said.