Should you be scared of the Willow Project too?

Biden Administration approves the process of starting the controversial Willow Project

Should you be scared of the Willow Project too?

Breanne Soto, Staff Writer

Since the Trump administration back in 2017, a controversial project has been in the process of approval that is now sparking the attention of people all across the country. The Willow Project is a project proposed by ConocoPhillips, that will create a decades-long oil drilling venture onto Alaska’s North Slope in the Petroleum Reserve. The North Slope is estimated to hold 600 million barrels of oil in the coming years if the project is improved.

The North Slope of Alaska (in green)

Alaska’s lawmakers claim the Willow Project will create jobs, boost domestic energy production, and lessen the state’s reliance on foreign oil. “Willow presents an opportunity to continue that investment in the communities,” Nagruk Harcharek, president of the advocacy group Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, told CNN. “Without that money and revenue stream, we’re reliant on the state and the feds.” Alaskan native groups also living on the North Slope seem to support the project as well. They explain the project has an opportunity to be a much–needed new source of revenue for the region and fund services like education and healthcare. All three lawmakers in Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation met with President Joe Biden and his senior advisers on March 3, urging the president and his administration to approve the project.


Oil projects already placed in Alaska

Although some Alaskan natives are supporting ConocoPhillips’ project, other locals began to express their concerns for the Willow Project. People in Alaska and people all over social media are calling out ConocoPhillips for their extremely harmful project idea. Videos on TikTok with anti-Willow hashtags like #StopWillow have amassed close to 50 million views in the last week. On Friday, Willow was on the site’s top 10 trending list, behind celebrities Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber.


TIkToks with the hashtag #stopwillow emerging on Tiktok in the past week

Much of the spike in interest has come in the last week alone. The online activism has resulted in more than one million letters being written to the White House protesting the project, as well as a petition with 4.5  million signatures as of Tuesday morning. In a recent personal letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak and two other Nuiqsut city and tribal officials said that the village would bear the brunt of health and environmental impacts from Willow. Other “villages get some financial benefits from oil and gas activity but experience far fewer impacts than Nuiqsut,” the letter reads. “We are at ground zero for the industrialization of the Arctic.”

Protesters against the Willow Project

Biden’s administration estimated the Willow Project would generate enough oil to release 9.2 million tons of planet-warming carbon pollution year- plus the extra 2 million gas cars that will be added to roads. Arctic, groups are also concerned the project could destroy the habitat for native species and alter the migration patterns of animals including caribou. If Biden were to approve Willow, he would technically break a promise he made for his administration. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden vowed to end new oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters – which he initially carried out as part of an early executive order. However, the drilling pause was struck down by a federal judge back in 2021, so since then the Biden administration has opened up several areas for new drilling. The Environmental legal group Earthjustice has told CNN it is preparing legal action against the project. Lawyers have already started laying out their legal rationale, saying the Biden administration’s authority to protect surface resources on Alaska’s public lands includes taking steps to reduce planet-warming carbon pollution.

On March 13th, the Biden administration approved the willow project. Government officials and locals are pleased to have it approved. “We finally did it, Willow is finally reapproved, and we can almost literally feel Alaska’s future brightening because of it,” Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in a statement, adding 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.” Environmental advocates are expected to challenge the project in court. Earthjustice, an environmental law group, has been preparing a case against the project and intends to argue the Biden administration’s authority to protect resources on Alaska’s public lands includes taking steps to reduce planet-warming carbon pollution, which the Willow Project would ultimately add to.