America’s Fight Against Climate Change: The Willow Project

In today’s interconnected world, climate-related news is abundant. Of those, both discouraging and encouraging news pop up frequently. Though the United States has recently been taking action to fight against climate change, as demonstrated by President Biden’s decisions to rejoin the Paris Agreement in February and enacting a temporary suspension on drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the country has also taken steps backward. One such example is the Willow Project.

The Willow Project is the result of ConocoPhillips’ discovery of an area of land in the Greater Willow Area of Alaska that contains an estimated 400 to 750 million barrels of oil to be extracted. The oil reserve was originally discovered in 2017, and the Trump Administration supported ConocoPhillips’ plan for development.

Alaska’s representatives Sen. Murkowski, Sen. Sullivan, and Rep. Young were also enthusiastic supporters of the Willow Project. Furthermore, according to the New York Times, the Biden Administration showed approval for the project when they filed a brief with the U.S. District Court for Alaska last month.

The arguments for supporting the oil drilling project are as follows: The Bureau of Land Management did give the go-ahead to ConocoPhillips to undertake the project during Trump’s presidency. According to their Environmental Impact Statement, the effects of drilling in three sites were deemed to be acceptable for the ecological health of the area. Additionally, the economic results of the project are promising: ConocoPhillips anticipates thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs to be created, which are sought after by many native communities in the region. Furthermore, billions of dollars in revenue are expected to be distributed among the federal and state governments, in addition to the North Slope communities. The jobs and revenue that will be generated from this project are an understandably tempting incentive, but the project also has its downsides.

According to ecologists, extracting a minimum of 100,000 barrels of oil from the region per day will not be without profound effects on the environment and Alaskan wildlife. For example, caribou migration patterns run right through the North Slope region, and large infrastructure built to undertake the oil extraction project will disrupt the habits of the already threatened species. Additionally, the project is expected to emit 260 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the International Energy Agency warned that undertaking such projects will undoubtedly contribute to global warming. Moreover, the air pollution resulting from the emissions will most adversely impact the health of the communities near the drilling site, the same group of people who will be economically benefited by the project.

To many, the Biden Administration’s support of the Willow Project contradicts their pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 50% by 2030. Biden had made notable efforts in the direction of reducing the country’s ecological footprint, but when inquired about how the Willow Project supports the tackle against climate change, no explanation was provided. A lengthy fight against climate change comes with both wins and losses, and it’s important that we celebrate steps forward and call for corrections when we take steps backward.