Exploring the Willow Project


Courtesy of the New Yorker

Environmentalists oppose the project outside the Department of the Interior

The climate crisis refers to the human-caused, long-term changes in temperature and weather patterns linked to rising sea levels, storms, the loss of wildlife, droughts, wildfires, and more harrowing problems. It is an issue that the United Nations, made up of 193 member-states, has acknowledged and pledged to fight against. It is an issue that United States president Joe Biden made a key one in his presidential campaign and recent State of the Union address. Nevertheless, it is still unclear whether the issue of climate change truly is a top priority for the Biden administration.

The Biden administration announced the approval of the Willow Project on March 13th, 2023. The Willow Project is an enormous oil drilling project based in Alaska.

The American oil company ConocoPhillips proposed the project to have five drilling sites in the North Slope of Alaska. The Trump administration first approved it in 2020, but an Alaskan federal judge reversed it in 2021 over concerns about the project’s environmental impact. With the new approval, Biden’s administration reduced the proposed five drilling sites to three, and the project’s ultimate goal is to produce around 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years. The only problem is that hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide are also expected to be produced along with the oil.

The Willow Project’s oil burning is estimated to put around 280 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Climate activists fear that the project will cause an increased reliance on fossil fuels and set back many green efforts that are looking to slow down climate change. Many feel that with this decision, the Biden administration is going in the opposite direction of their goals of reaching a net-zero emission economy by 2050 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2035.

In addition, the project has brought up concerns regarding wildlife and Indigenous communities living in Alaska who will all have their home infringed on by the project. One of the animals that could be impacted is the polar bear, which the U.S. government classified as an endangered species.

Millions of signatures have been given to petitions on change.org to demand that the Willow Project be stopped, and environmental groups such as Earthjustice have already announced plans to take legal action against the Willow Project. Gen Z, especially, has also utilized social media apps such as TikTok to raise awareness on the issue.
When asked about the backlash due to the approval of the Willow Project on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Vice President Kamala Harris said, “I think that the concerns are based on what we should all be concerned about. But the solutions must include what we are doing in terms of going forward and investments.”

Supporters of the project, including members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, and lawmakers, cite creating jobs and producing domestic energy, which will take away dependency from foreign nations, as reasons to celebrate the approval.

Some Alaska Native groups have also expressed support for the project due to the opportunity it has to uplift the communities around the Willow Project in sectors such as education and healthcare from the revenue made from the project.

Humans have long been forced to debate whether doing things for the supposed greater good is worth it when the cost of collateral damage is undoubtedly present. In most of our lives, this kind of conflict usually takes its course in low-stakes situations. However, history has shown that when governments and influential people are forced to choose between the worth of the present and the future and the minority and the majority, formidable consequences can ensue. The Willow Project has the opportunity to do great things, but its serious cost should be addressed.