Approval of the Willow Project Sparks Debate

Credit: Los Angeles Times

Credit: Los Angeles Times

Cezza Cardaropoli, Reporter

Environmentalists have been fighting to protect the Earth from manmade harm for decades, keeping the longevity and well-being of nature the priority. The urge of limiting the use of natural resources rather than the overconsumption of them extends their cause. But where should the line be drawn concerning the recent announcement of the Willow Project? Being the largest oil project on federal land in the history of the United States, Controversy on the subject has been expanding for years, following its first proposal in 2020. 

Picture credited to TIME

Although the first draft was approved by Trump’s administration, it was later denied and reversed by a federal judge in 2021. The plan was reconstructed and simplified as the judge claimed a false assessment of the environmental effects in the long run. Regardless, on March 13, 2023 the debate was settled as it was approved by the Biden administration, allowing Alaska’s petroleum reserve in the North Slope to be sold to ConocoPhillips for nearly $6 billion. This consensus hands over the 68,000 acres of land for the usage of oil drilling– that’s as big as Boston, plus some of its neighboring cities combined. Once activated, an estimated 180,000 barrels of oil will be produced per day, making up roughly 2% of the U.S. oil production. Succeeding completion over the span of 30 years, 278 million metric tons of carbon dioxide will have been released into the environment with a profit margin anywhere between $8 billion and $17 billion.

This plan’s development has gained quite the large following from an online audience, a petition in opposition of the Willow project reaching close to 5 million signatures within months via The cons of initiating the project appear to be the main focus in comparison to the pros throughout social media and its leaving advocates shocked, particularly considering this approval directly goes against Biden’s campaign promise; “no more drilling on federal lands, period.” Beyond this, disadvantages include a negative impact on all forms of wildlife and habitats, the overall effect on climate change, high amounts of carbon pollution, and intensifying the state of the U.S. economy. 

Alaska is already receiving a toll on a thriving wildlife as permafrost is thawing and is at risk of sinking with rising temperatures. This is significant as permafrost makes the ground watertight in order to create a direct water source for plants, necessary during dry summers. Not only does this affect local species, but pipelines and infrastructures will likely be damaged. When the Willow Project’s new structure is built and running, these issues will potentially be worsened. Formerly endangered species of polar bears and caribou are dependent on the North Slope, yet they’re facing that same risk over again. With pipelines potentially being built so close to animals and their natural habitats, it invokes the question of tragic oil spills that could provide an extra threat on both wildlife and pollution. 

In spite of that, government officials are reminding the public of the favorable aspects from the project. It will offer approximately 2,500 jobs to Alaska natives to work the construction and manage the layout as it’s being formed, 300 of those positions as permanent ones, overseeing the entirety of the Willow Project in its extent. Both Alaska residents and citizens of the entire U.S. can benefit from the lower gas prices that the Willow project will provide. The recent increasing of charges due to dependency on foreign oils won’t continue to be as strong, improving the nationwide economy. While some benefits shine through, protests over the internet are still on the rise, as well as some gatherings outside of the White House as Biden was making his final decision. Though approved, environmentalists are still trying to preserve the Willow project, as well as other nationwide factors.