After several months of intense lobbying and despite objections from environmentalists, on March 13th, the Biden administration approved the Willow Project, one of the largest oil developments on federal land. This new oil drilling proposal in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve was immediately met with multiple lawsuits from activists and environmental groups. This will surely be a topic of conversation in the state’s political landscape, so this article brings you what you need to know about this controversial new development.
Proposed by ConocoPhillips Alaska, Willow is a 30-year project that could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day, making it the largest proposed oil project on federal lands. The area is located on Alaska’s North Slope, about 600 miles north of Anchorage and it is part of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a special region established as an emergency oil source for the military. This vital location has been under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior since the 1970s. However, in recent years, there have been ongoing debates about the possibility of opening it up for development. The state’s economy, which hinges on oil production, has struggled to recover after the pandemic and demographic problems are further hampering the slight improvements in the Alaskan economy. Proponents of the project, which include Alaska’s three members of Congress, argue that the plan would create about 2,500 jobs, deliver up to $17 billion in revenue for the federal government and boost U.S. domestic energy security.
In addition, the Associated Press reported that the approval caused a rift in the Alaska Native community. Many indigenous groups like the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope as well as Asisaun Toovak, the mayor of Utqiaġvik, welcome the project and are excited about the much-needed prospects of economic development in their communities. Others like the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic took immediate legal action.
This was not the only place where Biden’s decision has caused controversy.In fact, the backlash spread nationwide. One of the main reasons is the environmental impact of the project. According to the Washington Post: “Willow would generate approximately 70 million metric tons of additional CO2 emissions — and another 60 million tons internationally — equivalent to just 0.03 percent of U.S. emissions in 2021, according to the estimates.” In addition, the area is home to an array of wildlife, such as polar and brown bears, muskox, caribou, and millions of migratory birds. For this reason, environmental activists mobilized online. According to Impakter, the hashtag #StopWillow was viral on TikTok and a Change.org petition reached over 3,000,000 signatures. Furthermore, CNN reports that the Environmental law group Earthjustice and law firm Trustees for Alaska filed lawsuits against the federal government to stop the project. The backlash is further amplified by the fact that the decision stands in stark contrast with President Joe Biden’s campaign promises to end new oil and gas drilling on federal lands. However, the approved proposal is a trimmed-down version of the Willow Project, which the Interior Department modified to mitigate environmental impacts. Moreover, the project had been previously approved by the Trump administration so the federal government could have faced strenuous litigation if the project was not approved or if it was changed drastically.
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