The Willow oil drilling project in Alaska has been given the green light by the administration of Joe Biden, a move which has been met with vigorous opposition from environmentalists and native community organizations in Alaska.
The project is an oil drilling endeavor with a long-term outlook that will be carried out in the National Petroleum Reserve, which is a territory that is held by the federal government.
“We finally did it, Willow is finally reapproved, and we can almost literally feel Alaska’s future brightening because of it,” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said. She further added that Alaska is “now on the cusp of creating thousands of new jobs, generating billions of dollars in new revenues” and “improving quality of life on the North Slope and across our state.”
Due to the fact that the project has not yet been built, the up to 600 million barrels of oil that are estimated to be present in the area where it is scheduled to be built will not be brought to market for many years.
Yet, according to the administration’s own projections, the Willow oil project would produce enough oil to cause an annual increase in carbon emissions equivalent to 9.2 million metric tons, which would have a warming effect on the world. This amount is the same as if two million more automobiles fueled by gasoline were driven on the roads.
Mixed Reactions from Advocates and Alaska Natives
Alaska’s congressional delegation and some Alaska Native tribes have welcomed the drilling venture as a new source of revenue and jobs for the region.
Nonetheless, climate groups and Alaska Natives have opposed the project, arguing that it poses environmental and health risks and could compromise President Biden’s ambitious climate goals.
The senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, Tiernan Sittenfeld said, “This is in direct conflict with the Biden-Harris administration’s goals of cutting climate pollution in half by 2030, and it’s now all the more important they double down on executive action that maximizes climate and conservation progress.”
Environmental Advocates Plan to Challenge the Project in Court
It is anticipated that environmental organizations will file legal challenges to the project. Earthjustice has been drafting a lawsuit against the project, and they hope to argue that the Biden administration has a duty to restrict carbon emissions in order to conserve resources on Alaska’s public lands.
Alaska's Western Arctic is called "America's Bird Basket", attracting countless waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors. But this beautiful area is threatened by the Willow Project, the largest single oil drilling project proposed in the U.S. pic.twitter.com/rwQ3FyIDUk
— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) March 10, 2023
Approval and Uprising of Online Activism
The initiative has resulted in online activities, such as the submission of over a million complaint letters to the White House and the creation of a petition on Change.org that has garnered millions of signatures.
In spite of the fact that the Biden administration had attempted to cut down on the number of allowed drilling sites, in the end it gave its blessing to three of them, citing the limits imposed by the law.
New Protections Being Given to Alaska
As a direct reaction to the approval of the Willow Project, Joe Biden has proposed extensive new safeguards for federal land and waterways in the state of Alaska.
The government will unveil new regulations to preserve almost 13 million acres in the federal National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska from drilling, and the entire US Arctic Ocean has been removed from consideration for any potential future oil and gas leasing.
The current administration’s goal is to prevent the leasing of up to 16 million acres for the use of fossil fuels in the future.
Sittenfeld said, “the new protections announced for the threatened Arctic are important, but they do not make up for Willow’s approval.”