Biden Administration’s approval of ‘Willow Project’ sparks controversy


President Joe Biden’s administration approved the controversial ‘Willow Project’ on March 14, a 30-year project that aims to produce nearly 180,000 barrels of oil a day in Alaska. It is projected to release 260 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to adding 56 million gas cars to the road for a year or having 69 coal-fired power plants run for a year. 

The willow project presents dangers not only for humans, but for all the land and sea animals that all earth home. (Mia Caliva/ Ethic News Art)  

The project was originally proposed in 2020 by the petroleum refinery company, Conocophillips, and was approved by the Trump administration, but the supreme court ruled it as unlawful in 2021 after conservation and Alaska Native groups challenged it. 

Eventually Conocophillips proposed the idea and it was approved for the second time. This decision has sparked major controversy and protests. Social media users have come together to express their concerns and disapproval of the project, as it will harm the planet and its inhabitants greatly. 

These social media users put together a petition against the project, saying that “Willow would emit more climate pollution annually than more than 99.7% of all single point sources in the country” and that they “do not have much time, but it’s still enough to defend the Arctic ecosystems that are already facing global warming”. As of March 15, the petition has gained over 3.9 million signatures, making it one of the most signed petitions on 

The widespread disapproval of the project has been shown through the petition to “Say No to the Willow Project.” (Destiny Ramos/ Ethic News Photo)

Tiernan Sittenfeld, the senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, said the league is “extremely disappointed” in the decision, calling the project “dangerous” and “dirty.” 

Because of the approval, new protections are being placed by the government to ensure habitats for whales, seals, polar bears and other wildlife are being “protected in perpetuity from extractive development,” the White House stated. These protections would indefinitely place an off-limits order to future oil and gas leasing of nearly three million acres of the Arctic Ocean and impose new protections in the petroleum reserve. 

The Biden administration also said it plans to consider additional protections for the more than 13 million acres within the petroleum reserve that may be designated as special areas for wildlife. 

“This is in direct conflict with the Biden-Harris administration’s goals of cutting climate pollution in half by 2030, and it’s now all the more important they double down on executive action that maximizes climate and conservation progress,” Sittenfeld said in a statement. “The new protections announced for the threatened Arctic are important, but they do not make up for Willow’s approval.”

Through the widespread disapproval, there are few supporters for the project, including Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy and other state lawmakers. Sullivan stated that the development could be “one of the biggest, most important resource development projects in our state’s history”.

Other supporters say that the project will create jobs, boost domestic energy production and lessen the country’s reliance on foreign oil.

The Biden administration felt they could not do much with the project, as Conocophillips have valid leases in the area and legally would not be allowed to fully reject the proposal or reduce the project drastically. Otherwise, they would have been faced with large fines and legal action from the company. 

The only action the administration could take was to reduce the number of drill pads from five to three. They attempted to reduce the number to two drill pads, but Conocophillips fought against this, claiming that two drill pads would make the project ineffective. 

On March 14, Earthjustice, an environmental group, filed a lawsuit against the project claiming that the Biden Administration approved Willow without “adequately assessing its climate impacts.” The lawsuit also challenges the administration’s failure to properly consider the project’s impacts on polar bears, ringed seals and bearded seals, as required by the Endangered Species Act. 

“There is no question that the administration possessed the legal authority to stop Willow — yet it chose not to,” said Erik Grafe, deputy managing attorney in Earthjustice’s Alaska regional office. “It greenlit this carbon bomb without adequately assessing its climate impacts or weighing its options to limit the damage and say no. The climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges we face, and President Biden has promised to do all he can to meet the moment. We’re bringing today’s lawsuit to ensure that the administration follows the law and ultimately makes good on this promise for future generations.” 

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