Simply put, the Willow Project, also known as the Willow Master Development Project, is yet another proposed oil development project slated to be built in Alaska’s Western Arctic. This $6 billion project is currently projected to open up an estimated 629 million barrels of oil over 30 years from a domestic energy source. Alaska’s Western Arctic is an expansive, remote area along the Arctic Circle and home to many robust ecosystems. This parcel of public land covers 23 million acres in northern Alaska (the size of Indiana) and is home to wildlife like caribou, geese, loons, salmon, polar bears, and bowhead whales. The Bureau of Land Management even describes the area as critical to local wildlife, as thousands of migratory birds fly through the area and it is a key calving area for caribou.

ConocoPhillips claims that direct consequences from the project would be limited and even plans to install “chillers” in the ground to help decrease permafrost melt. Supporters also say that the actual impacts of the project wouldn’t be that bad and between the 600 million+ barrels of oil, massive profits, lower consumer energy prices, and more than 2,500 well-paying jobs, the financial benefits of the project seem great, which is why it has support from Alaska lawmakers, some labor unions, trade organizations, lobbyists, and others.

However, there are so many direct and indirect consequences from the project that greatly outweigh the benefits. First, the projected millions of barrels of oil would take roughly 10 years to officially hit the market, making absolutely no impact on current consumer prices. Second, it’s estimated that the project’s carbon emissions would cost $19.8 billion in climate change-related damages. Burning that much oil could release almost 280 million metric tons of carbon emissions, further accelerating climate change-related natural disasters. The actual work of oil extraction/drilling in the area will also accelerate climate change, greatly destabilize the environment, and directly lead to rising sea levels. The below TikTok from Alex Haraus highlights just some of the actual impacts the Willow Project will have.


#stitch with @nalani (nah-lah-nee) i bought an atlas for this #arcticcircle #alaskahistory #mapsandmore #toxicology #stopwillow

♬ original sound – Alex Haraus

Even if there weren’t many devastating effects from the project that will ripple out and impact millions of people and animals, there is a moral and ethical obligation to listen, uplift, and help the most vulnerable among us. There is a split among indigenous leaders in the area on the project but the Native Village of Nuiqsut and the City of Nuiqsut have an open letter to Interior Secretary Debra Haaland, stating that the consultation process with the Bureau of Land Management regarding the project “has been deeply disappointing and contrary to the administration’s obligation for tribal consultation and to consider indigenous knowledge”.

The Biden Administration seems to have backed the project despite campaign promises to not approve drilling projects on public lands, widespread public opposition, and calls from locals. A formal decision has not been officially released but is said to be coming soon; according to the New York Times, President Biden will also be imposing restrictions on offshore oil leasing in the Arctic Ocean and across Alaska’s North Slope. It’s speculated that the Department of the Interior will also be issuing new rules protecting more than 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. However, these added restrictions, along with the BLM’s endorsed design for the project, do not do enough to protect the area and wildlife. Several environmental organizations oppose this compromise; for example, the Sierra Club released a statement on March 12th about these rumors, stating that:

“This is a critical moment when our country must be speeding up its transition from oil and gas to clean energy. These unparalleled protections for Alaskan landscapes and waters are the right decision at the right time, and we thank the Biden Administration for taking this significant step.

“However, the benefits of these protections can be undone just as quickly by approval of oil and gas projects on public lands, and right now, no proposal poses a bigger threat to lands, wildlife, communities, and our climate than ConocoPhillips’ Willow project. Oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters must end — full stop. The eyes of the world are watching to see whether this administration will live up to its climate promises — it is imperative that they do.”

What can you do? It seems rather daunting and virtually impossible for the public to go against oil and gas companies but together, we can still make a difference. If you would like to be involved, consider supporting organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity, Indigenous Environmental Network, and Audubon Alaska. You can also contact your representatives and urge them to oppose the Willow Project. Protect The Arctic has resources on possible next steps, such as a letter you can sign and a script for any phone calls made to the White House. You can also read through this #StopWillow toolkit for more information.

April 4, 2023 Updates

In the last couple of weeks, more information and updates have come out. On March 14th, the Biden Administration did officially approve the Willow Project despite campaign promises and widespread criticism. And just today, a federal judge sided with ConocoPhillips by denying a motion for a preliminary injunction brought by EarthJustice, Defenders of Wildlife, and other environmental groups. This denial allows the beginning stages of construction to happen, like constructing roads and a gravel mine. Even just the beginning construction will have detrimental impacts on the Western Arctic, as the plans are slated for a high-density caribou habitat and mining for gravel produces an immense amount of pollution of all kinds (most notably noise, air, and water). An appeal has already been filed with the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and environmental groups like The Wilderness Society have vowed to keep fighting the project.

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