The Biden administration is expected to make a decision soon on whether to approve the controversial Willow Project in Alaska.
ConocoPhillips’ massive Willow oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope has been moving through the administration’s approval process for months, galvanizing a sudden uprising of online activism against it, including more than one million letters written to the White House in protest of the project, and a Change.org petition with more than 2.9 million signatures.
Here’s what to know about the Willow Project.
What is the Willow Project?
ConocoPhillips’ proposed Willow Project is a massive and decadeslong oil drilling venture on Alaska’s North Slope in the National Petroleum Reserve, which is owned by the federal government.
The area where the project is planned holds up to 600 million barrels of oil. That oil would take years to reach the market since the project has yet to be constructed.
Who supports the Willow Project?
The state’s lawmakers say the project will create jobs, boost domestic energy production and lessen the country’s reliance on foreign oil. All three lawmakers in Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation met with President Joe Biden and his senior advisers on March 3, urging the president and his administration to approve the project.
A coalition of Alaska Native groups on the North Slope also supports the project, saying it could be a much-needed new source of revenue for the region and fund services including education and health care.
“Willow presents an opportunity to continue that investment in the communities,” Nagruk Harcharek, president of the advocacy group Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, told CNN. “Without that money and revenue stream, we’re reliant on the state and the feds.”
Who opposes the Willow Project?
Other Alaska Natives living closer to the planned project, including city officials and tribal members in the Native village of Nuiqsut, are deeply concerned about the health and environmental impacts of a major oil development.
In a recent personal letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak and two other Nuiqsut city and tribal officials said that the village would bear the brunt of health and environmental impacts from Willow. Other “villages get some financial benefits from oil and gas activity but experience far fewer impacts that Nuiqsut,” the letter reads. “We are at ground zero for the industrialization of the Arctic.”
In addition, a surge of online activism against Willow has emerged on TikTok in the last week – resulting in over one million letters being sent to the Biden administration against the project and over 2.8 million signatures on a Change.org petition to halt Willow.
Would the Willow Project be bad for the climate crisis?
By the administration’s own estimates, the project would generate enough oil to release 9.2 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon pollution a year – equivalent to adding 2 million gas-powered cars to the roads.