by Kaelin Ferland '23
The ConocoPhillips Willow project is an incredibly overlooked fossil fuel initiative despite the devastating toll it will have on our planet and its environmental injustice implications. If approved, the Willow project will be the largest oil project in the country, extracting over 600 million barrels of oil in just 30 years. The burning of this oil would release 280 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.
Willow will also be dangerous to native communities, as living in close proximity to these sites can lead to a variety of health issues. One nearby native community, Nuiqsut, has already expressed their concern and disapproval of this project. Many members of this community are concerned about chemical and noise pollution and potential oil spills, factors that could cause serious health issues. ConocoPhillips already had a gas leak at another one of their Alaskan drilling sites last year.
The location of Willow in the fragile arctic ecosystem will have devastating effects on the area, making it even more susceptible to climate change. The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to climate change as its temperatures increase four times faster than the rest of the planet due to Arctic amplification. When arctic ice melts due to warming temperatures, the reflective white ice becomes absorbent dark ocean water. This causes the Arctic to heat at a faster rate. Willow will also have a detrimental effect on wildlife, threatening birds, caribou, and other important species.
The project has already been approved in the Alaska House of Representatives in a 36-0 vote and has unfortunately received support from the Biden Administration. With the Final Supplemental Impact Statement having already been released by the US Bureau of Land Management, it seems as though the government is moving even closer to approving the project.
Supporting the Willow Project is hypocritical and dangerous. Throughout his presidency, Biden has consistently denounced fossil fuels and supported clean energy, reaffirming his commitment to climate action. On his first day in office, the United States re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement; that same year, he signed an executive order for the federal government to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act was also seen as a breakthrough in climate action being the largest climate investment in US history. The over $350 billion bill would go towards decreasing emissions, important conservation efforts, making clean energy affordable, and combating environmental injustice.
Everything about the Willow project opposes these policies and the current Administration’s commitment to supporting conservation and clean energy, as well as their commitment to mitigating climate change and environmental injustice. If approved, the future of our planet will be even more uncertain as we move further away from mitigating climate change and decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions. Approving the Willow project would demonstrate not only a lack of support for our planet but a prioritization of money and support for the fossil fuel industry while overlooking the safety of native Alaskan communities and wildlife. We need to hold our elected officials accountable for the promises they make. You can take action by signing Protect the Arctic’s petition to “tell President Biden & Secretary Haaland to say no to Willow.”