The U.S. has had its fair share of scandalous environmental bills, including the Tongass National Forest and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Fellow internet users have been drawing attention to the next one on the list, ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project.
Last Monday the Bill was officially passed by the Biden Administration and has since ignited widespread criticism. There has been intense online activism, with more than one million letters sent to the White House and a Change.org petition that has reached more than 4 million signatures.
What is the Willow Project and why has it sparked so much controversy?
In essence, the Willow Project is an oil drilling project, proposed to take place along Alaska’s North Slope in the National Petroleum Reserve, which is owned by the federal government.
The project is yet to be constructed, but it is planned to hold up to 600 million barrels of oil. The objective of the project is to help stimulate Alaska’s and the rest of the US economy by creating a plethora of new jobs in construction. The Alaskan Government is in full support of the project because of their urgency to provide new jobs to the residents of the state and reap the economic benefits.
Those who are opposed to the Willow Project, including Alaskan natives that live nearby to the site have expressed their concerns about the environmental impact of the plan. A whopping 287 million metric tons of carbon dioxide will be produced by the Willow Project which environmentalists say will cause “insurmountable damage”. On top of that, it is likely that the project could “provoke treacherous gas leaks which could spur further environmental issues.”
Environmental activists say the potential project would require oil drilling sites, and a processing plant in order to aid in the production of oils, gasses, and petroleum. It will also disrupt pipelines, compromise road access, and have dire constraints on wildlife.
Another major reason why the Willow Project has upset so many across the globe is that it will deter the Biden Administration from achieving their environmental targets, which proposed a 50% emission reduction in the United States by 2030. The Willow Project will make this objective impossible.
ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project has explained that they aim to reduce their carbon footprint. They claim they will achieve this by designing the project with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) requirements in mind. By doing so the project will be more energy efficient, mitigate various air pollutants, and reduce carbon emissions. However, this will not make the project completely environmentally friendly, so these statements have failed to ease the minds of environmentalists.
Many U.S. citizens are left disappointed and angry because they believe the Willow Project is completely contradicting President Joe Biden’s initial promises. It has the potential to warm up the Arctic more than it already is, drastically endangering wildlife, and Alaska Native subsistence. On top of that, the environmental analysis found that the project will likely emit black carbon (pM2.5), which research has found to have toxic effects on the health of those nearby to the pollution source.
Nuiqsut City Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, Vice Mayor Carl Brower, and President of the Native Village of Nuiqsut Eunice Brower asked: “If the BLM knows that our health is deteriorating, how can it in good conscience allow an activity to go forward, which will make our health worse?”, in a joint letter to the Department of the Interior.
It is also being argued that the 199 oil wells, 89.6 miles of pipeline, hundreds of miles of roads, bridges, airstrip, gravel mine site, boat ramps, central processing facility, and other developments will change the landscape so drastically that it will inflict stress on animals, and potentially changing the migration and movement patterns of caribou, wolves and thousands of bird species.
The Biden Administration is now being sued by a group of environmental organizations: Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) - who say the decision is “arbitrary, capricious, and/or not in accordance to the law”.
“We’re asking the court to halt this illegal project and ensure the public knows its true climate impacts,” said Christy Goldfuss, Chief Policy Impact Officer for the NRDC.
On the other side, Democrat Mary Peltola, Alaska’s single House representative told Newsweek that the project was an “essential step forward in our energy transition.”
A representative from the Iñupiat said the Willow Project “represents a new opportunity to ensure our indigenous, Alaska Native communities’ ten thousand years of history has a viable future.” As is expected to bring funding for infrastructure and create jobs, delivering “overwhelming benefits to Alaska Native communities while coexisting with our subsistence lifestyle.”
Only time will tell if and how Congress and Biden choose to respond to the pressure from the internet and environmentalist activists, and how the lawsuit will unravel. In the meantime, discussion and arguments continue to stir throughout social media.
Edited by: Yasmin Hailes
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