On March 13, the Biden Administration gave the green light to one of the largest oil developments on federal land, known as the Willow Project. In the upcoming three decades, the North Slope region of Alaska could potentially yield more than 500 million barrels of oil as a result of this project, which permits oil drilling in the area. However, the project is facing intense opposition from climate activists concerned about the negative impacts it could have on the environment, who generated over a million letters of protest to the White House and a Change.org petition with over 3 million signatures. Here is what to know about the Willow Project.
The Willow Project is located within the 23.4 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A), which is under the management of the Bureau of Land Management. Although this area is considered the richest area in the U.S. for oil digging, it's also a vital habitat for polar bears, caribou, and other arctic animals.
ConocoPhillips, the oil company in charge of the Willow Project, initially proposed building five drill sites, dozens of miles of roads, seven bridges, and pipelines to begin drilling. However, President Biden urged the oil company to condense the project as much as possible. Consequently, the Biden administration approved of a modified version of the project that entails a mere three drill sites and reduced surface infrastructure compared to the initial proposal.
According to ConocoPhillips, the project's total cost will be between $8 billion and $10 billion, and it is estimated to create over 600 million barrels of oil. It may deliver over $17 billion in revenue for federal and state governments, as well as local Alaskan communities. Moreover, the project has the potential to create over 2,500 construction jobs and approximately 300 long-term jobs.
However, not everyone is on board with the Willow Project. Alaskan residents are split on the project as some believe that the financial benefits outweigh the potential damage to wildlife and their way of life. Others worry about the long-term impact of increased CO2 emissions and the potential harm to the environment.
Climate activists are among the most vocal critics of the Willow Project, pushing to reduce fossil-fuel consumption as a way to cut emissions that cause climate change. According to estimates, the project is expected to generate around 70 million metric tons of additional CO2 in U.S. emissions and another 60 million tons internationally. This number is equivalent to just 0.03% of U.S. emissions in 2021. Climate activists have tried to stop other major projects like this as a way to push America away from oil. As a result, the project has required significant public intervention because it is on federal lands and needs federal permits to go forward.
Although environmental analysis has raised concerns about emissions, the potential harm to freshwater sources, and threats to wildlife, the Biden administration officials are continuing to push forward with the Willow Project. Despite these concerns, a federal judge in Alaska has declined to halt progress on the project as of April 3. The lawsuits against the project are still ongoing, and environmental activists remain concerned about the potential impact of the drilling on the delicate ecosystem of Alaska. The most well-known lawsuit against the Willow Project is being prosecuted by Earthjustice, who has filed a lawsuit with the Natural Resources Defense Council to stop the oil-drilling project.