Biden Administration Approves Willow Project

Isabel Ramos-Assam, Editor

President Biden formally approved the Alaska Oil Drilling Project known as the ‘Willow Project,’ a massive oil-drilling venture on Alaska’s North Slope, on March 13.

Despite large-scale dissent from the public due to the project’s harmful and potentially irreversible effects on the environment, the oil company ConocoPhillips is set to go through with this 30-year project.

“Today’s decision to approve the Willow Project in Alaska will lock in decades of dirty and dangerous oil and gas production and drown out the tremendous environmental and economic opportunities available from transitioning to a clean economy,” Margie Alt, Climate Action Campaign Director, said.

The Willow Project was originally approved in 2020 by the Trump administration, and ConocoPhillips was allowed to build five drill pads. However, the Biden administration  reduced this number to three drill pads before giving the green light to move forward with the project, allowing the company to drill about 90% of the oil they are seeking.

Ryan Lance, ConocoPhillips Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, said the approval was “the right decision for Alaska and our nation.”

The purpose of the approximately $7 billion Willow Project is to drill up to 100 wells on the North Slope of Alaska in the National Petroleum Reserve. This field is estimated to consist of 400 to 750 million barrels of oil.

“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,” Lance said.

The company and the Biden administration have faced fierce backlash from Alaskan natives, climate activists, and a large fraction of the U.S. population concerned with the future of endangered species, Indigenous communities, and the earth’s overall wellbeing. The Willow Project would produce an amount of oil that would release 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution a year, therefore contributing to global warming.

“It green-lights a carbon bomb, sets back the climate fight and emboldens an industry hell-bent on destroying the planet,” Christy Goldfuss, Chief Policy Impact Officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

Furthermore, people are enraged at Biden for breaking his 2020 presidential campaign promise to halt new oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters. Tribal members living in the Native village of Nuiqsut, near the project’s set location, have spoken out against the project, emphasizing that their village will have to directly face the harmful effects of the Willow project, while other cities will benefit from the project on a financial level.

“Our concerns are real. It’s about our way of life, the life, health, and safety of our village,” Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, City of Nuiqsut Mayor, said.

Online activism against the formal approval of the Willow Project brought widespread anger once this decision was made, influencing people to send letters to the Biden administration and gather over 2.8 million signatures on a petition against the Willow Project.

“Protecting one area of the Arctic so you can destroy another doesn’t make sense, and it won’t help the people and wildlife who will be upended by the Willow project,” Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said.

During this opposition, lawmakers claimed the project would create jobs, increase domestic energy production, and diminish U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Lawmakers in Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation met with President Biden on March 3, urging him and his administration to approve the Willow project because of the financial benefits. The Biden Administration has attempted to ease the situation by listening to the concerns of environmentalists.

“My strong inclination was to disapprove of it across the board but the advice I got from counsel was that if that were the case, I may very well lose that case in court to the oil company and then not be able to do what I really want to do beyond that,” Biden said in a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

Following the recent approval of this project, disappointment and worries regarding climate pollution and future harm to the Alaskan environment have increased. With Alaska’s natural areas being exploited for drilling by the government, advocates for climate change policies have condemned the decision of Biden’s administration and continue to raise their voices against the decades-long Willow Project.