What is the Willow Project?

The Willow Project was proposed by ConocoPhillips, and the company received initial approval for the project from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) during the Trump administration. In October 2020, the BLM released a Record of Decision (ROD) that authorized ConocoPhillips to move forward with development of the project.

Once developed, the project would involve the construction of infrastructure, including drilling pads, pipelines, and processing facilities, to extract oil and gas from the area.

The proposed project has been controversial due to concerns about its potential environmental impacts on the area’s wildlife and ecosystem, as well as its contribution to climate change through the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. The project is currently under review by the Biden administration, which has expressed skepticism about the need for new oil and gas development projects in light of the urgent need to address climate change.

However, the Biden administration has since taken steps to review and potentially revise decisions made by the previous administration regarding the Willow Project and other energy development projects in Alaska. In January 2021, the administration announced a temporary moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, including in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), where the Willow Project is located. The moratorium is in effect while the administration conducts a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas program.

An environmental law organization called Earthjustice is anticipated to submit a complaint against the project soon. They will likely ask for an injunction to try to stop it from moving forward. ConocoPhillips and environmental organizations are battling the clock. Because Willow requires ice roads to create the rest of the oil project’s infrastructure, which includes hundreds of miles of roads, pipelines, and a processing plant, construction on Willow can only be done during the winter months. The winter season in Alaska could conclude around April, depending on the weather.

Construction could be delayed for at least a year if environmental organizations are successful in getting an injunction before that to halt or postpone the project. The oil poured out of Willow may take years to reach the market because the project must be completed before the oil can be produced.

The project, according to state’s legislators, will increase domestic energy output, create jobs, and reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign oil. On March 3, President Joe Biden and his top advisers met with the three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation to urge them to support the project.

A coalition of Alaska Native organizations on the North Slope defends the project and claims it may provide the area with an essential new stream of income, helping pay for services like education and healthcare.

“Willow presents an opportunity to continue that investment in the communities,” Nagruk Harcharek, the head of the advocacy organization Voice of the Arctic Iupiat, told CNN. 

Other Alaska Natives who live closer to the proposed project, such as municipal authorities and tribe people like from Nuiqsut, are extremely worried about the effects a significant oil development will have on their health and the environment.

Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak and two other city and tribal leaders said in a recent private letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland that the village will suffer the most from Willow’s effects on the community’s health and ecology. The letter claims that while other villages “get some financial benefits from oil and gas activity, they experience far fewer impacts than Nuiqsut.” “The industrialization of the Arctic is at its infancy here.”

Additionally, over one million letters were sent to the Biden administration opposing the initiative, and over 2.8 million people signed a Change.org petition to stop Willow in the previous week as a result of an uptick in online activity against it on TikTok.

Make sure to read more about the Willow Project and speak out! Contact your local government to reach higher platforms, sign petitions, and stay aware. 

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