Controversial Alaska Oil Drilling Project Approved Despite Pushback From Environmentalists And Native Americans

The United States government has approved a controversial oil drilling project in Alaska, known as the Willow Project.

Despite pushback from environmentalists and the Native American community closest to the site, the project will be located inside the National Petroleum Reserve, approximately 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and could produce almost 600 million barrels of crude oil over the next 30 years, according to the Interior Department.

Wildlife abound in the BLM-managed National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Photo: BLM / Bob Wick
Wildlife abound in the BLM-managed National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The department had reduced the scope of the plan by denying two of the five drill sites proposed by ConocoPhillips, Alaska’s largest crude oil producer, but the project could produce almost a quarter of a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. As The New York Times reports, that’s equal to adding nearly two million cars to the roads each year.

The oil industry and Alaskan lawmakers had urged President Biden to approve the project for its energy production potential and its ability to create jobs, Alaska Public Media reports. ConocoPhillips estimated that the project could create more than 2,500 construction jobs and around 300 long-term jobs.

About 90 bird species, primarily migratory, are found annually in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Photo: BLM / Bob Wick
About 90 bird species, primarily migratory, are found annually in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The decision of the administration was applauded by Nagruk Harcharek, who is the president of the Voice of Arctic Iñupiat – a nonprofit organization that works towards addressing issues impacting the North Slope Iñupiat. Harcharek expressed his belief that the decision would expand the tax base responsible for supporting the communities residing on the North Slope.

However, environmentalists and some Democrats see the approval of the Willow Project as a step in the wrong direction for the administration’s climate and environmental goals. The Sierra Club’s executive director, Ben Jealous, said that the harm the project will cause “may not ever be able to be undone. This is the equivalent of putting dozens and dozens of coal-fired power plants back online. It makes it almost impossible to understand how the administration will ever meet its promises to reduce emissions from public lands.”

The Biden administration has approved a controversial oil drilling project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, known as the Willow Project.
Photo: BLM / Bob Wick
The Biden administration has approved a controversial oil drilling project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, known as the Willow Project.

The Native American community closest to the site has also opposed the project, while others have supported it. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a statement that she could almost “feel Alaska’s future brightening” after the administration’s announcement, Huffpost reports.

The Interior Department announced that ConocoPhillips would relinquish rights to around 68,000 acres of its existing leases in the petroleum reserve, most of which are close to the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, a major habitat for caribou and other wildlife that Native communities rely on, EE online reports.

The Teshekpuk Caribou Herd is an important subsistence resource to the residents of Atqasuk, Barrow, Nuiqsut and Wainwright in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Photo: BLM / Bob Wick
The Teshekpuk Caribou Herd is an important subsistence resource to the residents of Atqasuk, Barrow, Nuiqsut and Wainwright in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The Biden administration also declared about 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean as indefinitely off-limits for future oil and gas leasing. The Interior Department said it is also considering additional protections for more than 13 million acres within the reserve that have significant natural or historical value.

Senator Ed Markey, a vocal proponent of initiatives aimed at combating climate change, criticized the administration’s climate record, characterizing its decision to approve the Willow Project as an “oil stain.”

“Approval of the Willow Project is an environmental injustice,” reads Markey’s statement. “The Biden administration’s decision to move forward with one of the largest oil development projects in decades sends the wrong message to our international partners, the climate and environmental justice movement, and young people who organized to get historic clean energy and climate investments into law last year.”

There are also impressive herds of caribou in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Photo: BLM / Bob Wick
There are also impressive herds of caribou in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Following a federal judge’s findings of flaws in the Trump administration’s review before approving a project with five drill pads, the Bureau of Land Management was required to assess the proposed Willow Project, NBC News reports.

On the campaign trail, Biden called for an end to drilling on federal lands. The decision to approve the Willow Project has sparked criticism from those who feel it goes against Biden’s promise to prioritize environmental protection. However, the administration has defended its decision, arguing that the project underwent a thorough review process and that it includes measures to mitigate environmental impact.

Brown and polar bears, walrus, small game and birds make their homes in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Photo: BLM / Bob Wick
Brown and polar bears, walrus, small game and birds make their homes in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The Interior Department has stated that ConocoPhillips must adhere to strict safety and environmental standards, including limits on drilling during the sensitive breeding season for wildlife and requirements for advanced leak detection technology. The department also noted that the project is expected to generate significant revenue for the federal government, which can be used to fund conservation efforts and reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

Despite these assurances, many environmental advocates remain deeply concerned about the project’s impact on the fragile Arctic ecosystem. The area where the Willow Project will be located is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including polar bears, caribou, and migratory birds, all of which could be threatened by increased industrial activity, Audubon reports.

The U.S. Department of the Interior reduced the scope of the Willow Project by denying two of the five drill sites proposed by ConocoPhillips
Pixabay
The U.S. Department of the Interior reduced the scope of the Willow Project by denying two of the five drill sites proposed by ConocoPhillips.

Moreover, many experts warn that the project’s estimated carbon emissions could further exacerbate the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels and more frequent natural disasters. This concern is especially acute given that the Arctic is warming at a faster rate than any other region on the planet, the International Science Council reports, making it particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The approval of the Willow Project is just one of several controversial decisions the Biden administration has made related to energy and the environment. The administration has also faced criticism for its handling of the Dakota Access Pipeline and its decision to allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Willow Project could produce over a quarter of a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and cause harm that may never be undone.
Pixabay
The Willow Project could produce over a quarter of a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and cause harm that may never be undone.

The approval of the Willow Project by the Biden administration has stirred up controversy. While some argue that it would expand the tax base supporting North Slope communities and create jobs, it also comes at the cost of key climate and environmental goals.

The project could produce over a quarter of a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and cause harm that may never be undone. Call on the Biden Administration to stop leasing public lands to oil companies. Click below to take action in support of a sustainable and healthy future for our planet!

Protect the Planet

Help preserve vital habitat at The Rainforest Site for free!

Whizzco