One of the main features of the new millennium are topics related to the environment and climate change. Even though there are still theories that climate change does not exist, and that the situation should not be taken seriously, at the end of the last century, the international community finally began to give importance to this phenomenon, seeing the urgency and necessity for changes in this field. However, even after many decades, regulations and international agreements, the major powers are abusing their position to violate the agreements and acts that they willingly acceded to, creating catastrophic consequences for climate change. One of such potential abuses is the willow project.
2. What is the Willow project?
ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project is a massive and decades long oil drilling venture on Alaska’s North Slope that has been exploring and drilling for oil in Alaska for years. Willow was proposed by ConocoPhillips and originally approved by the Trump administration in 2020, originally approved to construct five drill pads, but later reduced to three.
The area where the project is planned holds up to 600 million barrels of oil. That oil would take years to reach the market since the project has yet to be constructed and now that the Biden administration has given the Willow project the green light, construction can begin. However, it is unclear exactly when that will happen, in large part due to impending legal challenges.
Earthjustice, an environmental law group, is expected to file a complaint against the project soon and will likely seek an injunction to try to block the project from going forward.
3. Negative impact on the climate change
It is estimated that this project will emit 239 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the next several decades, which would be equivalent to the emissions of 64 coal-fired US power plants. Therefore, there is a good reason why environmental organizations have named this project a “carbon bomb”.
In contrast to that, President of the United States has obliged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 compared to 2005 with the goal of achieving a net zero emissions economy by no later than 2050. Therefore, by approving the project, this plan would be highly jeopardized.
Activists also state that Willow project is making no sense for the health of the Arctic or the planet, and they are supported both by local communities and law firms who already filed suits in regard with this case. One of their claims is also potential climate effects to the threatened species, including polar bears that reside in the region where the Willow Project would be constructed, stating that project violates several federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
4. Can the Willow project be a good thing?
While some focus on the negative aspects, others see this project as a great opportunity. Some Senators of U.S. congress can feel Alaska’s future brightening because of it. These thoughts come mainly from the fact that this project will create thousands of new jobs, also generating billions of dollars in new revenues, improving quality of life on the North Slope and across the state.
To understand this point of view, one has to know that Alaska’s economy is heavily dependent on oil extraction. Nearly 85% of the state budget comes from oil revenues. For that reason, one can understand the potential importance of this project especially for the state of Alaska, which is currently pumping less than a quarter of the oil it was moving in the 1980s.
Also, it is important to add that, even if the President’s administration wanted to react, their hands are potentially tied due to existing and valid leases in the area with ConocoPhillips. They determined that legally, courts wouldn’t have allowed them to fully reject or drastically reduce the project. If they had pursued those options, they could have faced steep fines in addition to legal action from ConocoPhillips.
5. Do we have a solution?
Environmental groups and ConocoPhillips are each racing against the clock. Construction on Willow can only be done during the winter season because it needs ice roads to build the rest of the oil project’s infrastructure.
If environmental groups secure an injunction before then to stop or delay the project, it could delay construction for at least a year. And since the project needs to be fully constructed before the oil can be produced, it could take years for the oil pumped out of Willow to reach the market.
How can you help? Immediately after the Willow project became known to the public, activists created a petition on the change.org website called "Say no to the Willow project". This petition has more than 5 million signatures so far. If this article convinced you that Willow project can be fatal for the environment and future of our planet, you can sign the petition at this link: https://www.change.org/p/joseph-r-biden-biden-administration-and-conocophillips-say-no-to-the-willow-project.