Movement against controversial Willow drilling project in Alaska grows

US President Joe Biden recent approval of the Willow oil drilling project has environmental and indigenous groups calling the project a “carbon bomb,” according to Associated Press. The groups claim the analysis used to approve the project was flawed and that this action is a betrayal of his campaign pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

Ryan Lance

Current chairman of ConocoPhillips and champion for the project, Ryan Lance, said he was “truly grateful for the steadfast support from Alaska’s Congressional Delegation,” and “thank[s] our employees and the contractor community, who dedicated years to designing a project that will provide reliable energy while adhering to the highest environmental standards.” 

The Willow Project, that was approved by the Biden administration on March 13, 2023, would allow for the construction of up to three drill pads approximating 200 oil wells in Willow, Alaska. ConocoPhillips plans to extract 600 million barrels over the next 30 years, creating up to 2,500 new construction jobs, including 300 permanent jobs, and contributing 8-17 billion dollars to the federal government. ConocoPhillips profited 18.7 billion dollars in 2022 alone, and that number is estimated to continue growing over the years. The project could take up to a decade to fully build but is expected to finish in 2029.

Critics of the project have filed two lawsuits to stop the venture. Environmental law organizations Earthjustice and Trustees for Alaska have both filed complaints to the Biden administration, and several other departments. This is not the first time the Willow project has received pushback.

willow project
The Willow development plan. SOURCE: ConocoPhillips.

Originally approved in 2020, ConocoPhillips had valid leases to the area to drill but was stopped by a similar court case held in late 2021, where the judge ruled in favor of the environmental groups due to poor project analysis on Conocophillip’s part. Earthjustice and Trustees are now seeking an injunction through their court cases, aiming to halt the project in its entirety. With the US being over 30 trillion in debt currently in February 2023, the Willow Project would bring in needed profits to the federal government. However, environmentalists argue the environmental impact of the project would not be worth any potential benefits to our economy. 

Critics also claim that the proposed project has the potential to significantly impact the already fragile arctic ecosystem, causing the disintegration of the habitats of several endangered species. They have also dubbed the Willow Project a “carbon bomb” due to their estimated 260 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to 76 coal plants, a third of all coal plants in America.

Lisa Murkowski

Supporters of this project have attested it would decrease America’s dependence on Russian oil supplies, as well as boost the Alaskan economy. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), told Grist last month that the Willow Project would “reduce our energy imports from some of the worst regimes in the world.” 

Congresswoman Mary Peltola (D-Alaska), who agreed with Murkowski saying, “[it would] make us all safer in a world that has grown more unpredictable after Russia invaded Ukraine.” 

Ryan Lance, ConocoPhillips CEO, agreed with both Peltola and Murkowski, stating in a press release regarding the project’s decision that the “Willow [project] 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.” 

‘It Will Help The Nation’: Alaska Democrat Mary Peltola Speaks Out In Favor Of Willow Project | Forbes Breaking News

However, others seem to disagree with those statements. An assistant professor of history and northern studies at the University of Alaska, Phil Wight, told Grist that although the Willow Project will bring in copious amounts of oil, it won’t be nearly enough to offset America’s dependence on foreign supplies.

“Alaska remains an important energy state, but [Willow Project] will not make or break the nation’s energy independence in the coming decades,” said Wight.

In 2021, the United States daily consumption of oil stood at 19.78 million barrels, while the maximum daily output of the Willow Project would be limited to 180,000 barrels without any further improvement in production. Therefore, the Willow Project would only account for 0.91% of America’s daily oil intake.

Tharp, a representative of GreenFaith on the People vs Fossil Fuels Committee told EarthBeat,“It’s really unjustifiable to use the war against Ukraine to expand fossil fuel infrastructure. We should be using the current energy crisis to help us accelerate the transition we need to make off of fossil fuels.” 

As of March 24, 2023, WTI Crude was priced at $69.29 per barrel and according to the Bureau’s model by Grist, the Willow Project would decrease the oil price by 20 cents per barrel when operating at peak performance. 

The movement against the Willow Project recently gained traction on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, where hashtags such as #StopWillow and #StopTheWillowProject have amassed 150 million collective views, with an overall consensus of criticism directed at the Biden administration. The White House has received a million hand-written letters to end the project, and hundreds of petitions, with the largest receiving over 4 million signatures.

Whether the Willow Project will actually go through now depends on the outcomes of the two lawsuits against the Biden administration and ConocoPhillips.

FEATURED IMAGE: A 2019 aerial photo of the proposed drilling site of the Willow oil project provided by ConocoPhillips.

Emily Chu

Emily is a Kamiak High School intern at the Lynnwood Times.

Emily Chu has 5 posts and counting. See all posts by Emily Chu

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