A sinking feeling drowns my body writing this as the US government announces another climate-destroying plan going ahead - The Willow Project.
And we are disappointed.
What is The Willow Project?
ConocoPhillips is the biggest producer of crude oil in Alaska - where the Willow Project is based. The company plans on spending $6 billion to dig up oil and gas on the largest unmarked nature reserve in the USA. Situated on The North Slope is the National Petroleum Reserve, full of captivating wildlife from marine animals such as beluga whales, migratory birds, and raptors. Rivers, ‘rich geological, scientific, archeological and paleontological sites’ run through the expansive landscapes, meaning this land is of great value!
The Willow Project will need more than 200 oil wells, a central processing plant, additional pipelines, an airport, and a gravel mine. The US government has predicted a frightening 9.2 million metrons of carbon dioxide to be released yearly, and 160,000 barrels of oil are estimated to be produced daily over the next 30 years. This amount of burning will emit over 260 million tons of pollution, matching the yearly production of 66 coal power plants. The project is on course to go beyond the timeline scientists have advised for countries to stop such acts to prevent catastrophic global heating. They've unveiled that the project will be smaller than planned, with three drilling sites going ahead instead of five.
Nevertheless, the impact this will have on wildlife is inconceivable, so you can imagine why environmentalists deem this act a "betrayal" and a "climate catastrophe".
Continuously fighting to stop the project, Karlin Nageak Itchoak, Wilderness Society Senior Regional Director says:
"Willow is a carbon bomb that cannot be allowed to explode in the Arctic. - Our Native villages are eroding into the sea, thawing permafrost is making infrastructure insecure, and food sources are disappearing. And this project would just exacerbate and speed up the climate crisis in the Arctic.”
The administration has paramount pressure from younger, forward-thinking voters to act more and do better to combat climate change. The younger generation feel neglected and disappointed by the decisions made by a president who promised during his campaign - “no more drilling on federal lands, period”. Despite Biden’s promises, the administration has accepted roughly 100 more oil and gas drilling leases. The sad fact is that federal data shows that the so-called ‘Climate President’ has surpassed the number of approvals that Trump had during this exact point of his presidency. It has to be noted that Biden originally pledged that by 2030 greenhouse emissions will be halved, and by the latest 2050 they will hopefully achieve a net zero emissions economy. Astonishingly, Biden has turned this dream into a future nightmare.
Raena Garcia, fossil fuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth, claims Biden’s approval of the project is “a colossal and reprehensible stain on his environmental legacy”.
At the recent State of the Union, Biden announced that “we’re going to need oil for at least another decade - and beyond that”, this was met with boos from lawmakers.
It seems he shares a similar mindset to newly elected Democrat Mary Peltola, who recently stated: “We all recognize the need for cleaner energy, but there is a major gap between our capability to generate it and our daily needs”.
Biden's administration originally proposed a reforestation plan to combat the carbon dioxide issue. However, during the final decision, it didn't go through. This devastating agreement means efforts such as; Biden’s over-promotion of electric vehicles and all the wind and solar projects put forward last year to help cut emissions over the next ten years will be for nothing. The project will instead emit ‘the equivalent of 2 million’ gas-powered cars to the roads.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the many associates of Biden’s Democratic opposing his decision, has said he is ignoring “the voices of the people of Nuiqsut, our frontline communities, and the irrefutable science that says we must stop building projects like this to slow the ever more devastating impacts of climate change”.
It is understood that Biden is feeling the heat to increase drilling due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raising oil prices, but is this justification honest for such a hastily made decision?
Kristen Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity expressed her anger towards the decision:
“it’s outrageous that Biden seems ready to greenlight the massively destructive Willow project, prioritizing oil industry profits over the future of polar bears and other Arctic wildlife - We’ll keep fighting it until it’s scrapped.”
Does anyone support the project?
Not only is there political favor evident in Alaska, but also from local areas such as the Alaska Native village corporation. Supporters claim the Willow Project will benefit communities, helping ‘invest in infrastructure and provide public services’. Furthermore, ConocoPhillips announced the project will produce around $17 billion, boosting the economy in Alaska.
‘Willow’ has backing from the bipartisan congressional delegation, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and state lawmakers.
“- very good news for the country. Not only will this mean jobs and revenue for Alaska, it will be resources that are needed for the country and for our friends and allies. - The administration listened to Alaska voices. They listened to the delegation as we pressed the case for energy security and national security.” - Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
It is acknowledged that the project will indeed bring more jobs to the area, but the risk is too high to take. One of many campaigners against the project is Action Network, which has stated:“The Willow Project will be devastating for all those that call the Arctic home. The noise, traffic, and pollution the project brings will disrupt ecosystems that Indigenous Alaskans have relied on for millennia. And the project threatens the already vulnerable caribou population - a vital resource many native communities rely on.”
What does the Biden administration have to say?
Before becoming interior secretary, Deb Haaland disagreed with the project. Fast forward, she currently voices a different opinion, taking to Twitter to discuss the project as a “difficult and complex issue - As a result, we had limited decision space, but we focused on how to reduce the project’s footprint and minimize its impacts to people and to wildlife.”
The government has announced plans to limit future oil and gas leases of roughly 3 million acres of the Arctic Ocean, including procedures to protect the petroleum reserve..
Additional plans to conserve over 13 million acres of the reserve are on the table, but details are unclear. The White House states that the habitats “will be protected in perpetuity from extractive development” for polar bears, whales, seals, and other important wildlife.