What does the approval of the Willow Project mean for our planet?

Written by
February 22, 2024
4 min read

#StopWillow has taken the internet by storm reaching over 50 million views in the last week on TikTok. Labelling it one of the largest climate issues to go viral. Despite these mass protests and the 3.3 million people who have signed the Stop Willow protest, the Willow Project was approved by the Biden Administration yesterday on the 13th of March. 

What is the Willow Project? 

The Willow Master Development Plan is the largest proposed oil development on public lands. It is a £6 billion proposal from ConocoPhillips to drill for oil and gas in Alaska. It is going to take place on Alaska’s North Slope located inside the National Petroleum Reserve which spans 23 million acres and is owned by the US federal government making it the largest area of untouched public land in the United States.

It's estimated to produce 567 million barrels of oil over 30 years. It was said that it would boost Alaska’s economy as oil production has declined in the state, which relies heavily on drilling to run its economy. And ConocoPhillips stated that the project could deliver up to $17 billion in revenue for both the federal and state governments. 

The project was initially approved by Trump (no surprise there) years ago but in 2021 a federal judge reversed this decision stating that the environmental analysis was flawed and needed to be reassessed. However, there was still widespread political support in Alaska and on Monday the Biden Administration granted ConocoPhillips approval for the project. Supposedly reaching a fair and balanced agreement in which the company is limited to only three sites instead of five.  

But what is the environmental impact? 

Rightfully so, the approval of this project has created outrage amongst both environmental campaigners and the millions of ordinary people who were advocating for #StopWillow. The executive director of Evergreen Action stated that “Approving the Willow Project is an unacceptable departure from President Biden’s promises to the American people on climate and environmental justice”. 

Willow would emit more climate pollution annually than 99.7% of all single-point oil sources in the country. The government estimates that the project would generate enough oil to release 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year which is equal to adding another 2 million gas-powered cars onto the roads. 

Over the next 30 years, it would release around 278 million metric tons of carbon pollution which completely disregards the efforts currently being made to bring down carbon levels. For some context, annually the entirety of the UK produces around 505 million tonnes of CO2, so this single project alone will emit half of the entire UK’s emissions in the next 30 years, a staggering number. 

On a social level, the project would completely surround the native village of Nuiqsut causing increasing health risks for the community and the environment,  with the mayor declaring it a “climate disaster waiting to happen”. 

The noise, traffic and pollution the project brings would disrupt the delicate ecosystems of Alaska. Alaska already has numerous endangered animals such as Polar Bears, sea lions and whales and the project threatens these animals even more. 

The Willow Project is detrimental to the environment and goes against the promises made by Biden to advance climate change awareness. Governments need to take more responsibility for our planet as they hold so much power however, individuals can play their part by offsetting and reducing their emissions. 

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Written by
February 22, 2024
4 min read