The Bureau of Land Management Greenlights Willow Project In the Arctic

It’s a green light for ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project in Alaska’s Western Arctic. The Bureau of Land Management released its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed project in early February. 

The Willow Project is the largest oil extraction project ever proposed on federal lands. The 30-year plan by ConocoPhillips calls for 250 wells, 37 miles of roads, 386 miles of pipelines, airstrips, and a new central processing facility in the remote Arctic. The Trump administration approved the Willow project during its last days. The project faced court litigation soon after. Now, the Biden administration approved it. 

The Environmental and Public Impacts of the Willow Project

ConocoPhillips claims that its Willow project is “important for Alaska’s economy and for America’s energy security.” It will produce an estimated 180,000 barrels of oil daily at its peak. According to the oil company, it could generate between $8 and $17 billion in revenue for the federal government, Alaska, and North Slope Borough communities. 

The company does not mention that the Willow project would generate 287 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 30 years. That is equivalent to the annual emissions from 76 coal power plants, a third of all coal plants in the U.S. 

The Arctic is rapidly warming, and permafrost is melting. The Arctic is warming four times faster than anywhere else on earth, according to a study published in 2022. Temperature rise in Arctic Alaska occurs three times that of the rest of the planet. The Western Arctic is a key habitat for caribou, migratory birds, and polar bears. The Willow Project puts the habitats of those animals at risk. 

The Willow project is about 36 miles from the village of Nuiqsut, whose residents are mainly indigenous. Oil development surrounds the village, and residents said they see oil flares at night, fumes, and pollution. The area is an important one for indigenous people. 

“We have experienced rising health issues, and the dismantling of traditional practices and food sources because of oil extraction and industrialization on the Arctic Slope,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, in a statement.

A coalition of the nation’s climate, conservation, and indigenous organization sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “No single oil and gas project poses a greater threat to the Biden Administration’s climate and public lands protection goals than the Willow Project. Allowing ConocoPhillips to proceed in the Western Arctic has the potential to undo the clean energy progress we’ve already made and make the goals we hope to reach by 2030 unattainable,’’ said the coalition. “For that reason, it is vital that the Bureau of Land Management undertake a more careful and comprehensive review of this project.”

Ruining Biden’s Climate Legacy

The Willow Project conflicts with President Biden’s climate goal of reducing carbon emissions by over 50 percent by 2030. The Biden administration pledged to expand renewable energy development on public lands and waters. However, the Willow Project will extract over 160,000 barrels of oil daily for 30 years, significantly surpassing the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by Biden’s 2030 renewable energy commitments on public lands and waters. The project would produce double the carbon emissions that all renewable energy progress on public lands and waters would save by 2030. 

“Greenlighting the Willow project would banish President Biden’s climate legacy to one of irreparable and downright shameful environmental destruction,” said Raena Garcia, Fossil Fuels and Lands Campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “Biden must reject Willow and all attempts by the fossil fuel industry to profit at the expense of clean public lands and waters.”


Image credit: Jason Woodhead on Flickr

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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