Passage of Willow Project leads to controversy about costs, benefits


Courtesy / AP

Grace Smith, Staff Writer

On March 13, after months of deliberation, the Biden administration granted approval for the Willow Project. The Willow Project is a controversial proposal petitioned for by ConocoPhillips, Alaska’s largest crude oil producer, that would allow for a massive oil drilling project on Alaska’s north slope. 

The Willow Project plans to access nearly 600 million barrels of oil from the National Petroleum Reserve, which is owned by the federal government, over the next several years. This project has sparked concerns over the environmental impact that extensive drilling could have in comparison to the economic benefits the project could have.

News of the Willow Project spread on social media. Elise Joshi’s TikTok video, amongst several others, boosted #StopWillow to the top of trending tags on TikTok in the month of February. The viral TikTok was captioned “Biden isn’t a climate champion if he approves an oil drilling project. Help get the word out about Willow!” The hashtag was present on many platforms where the public issued their concerns and voiced opposition for the Willow Project. 

Similarly, a petition on entitled “Biden Administration and ConocoPhillips: SAY NO TO THE WILLOW PROJECT!” amassed over 3.7 million signatures. 

“The Biden administration’s projections are that there will be about 180,000 barrels of oil a day produced from this for up to 30 years and that would produce about 10 million tons of greenhouse gasses per year,” said Erik Nordman, GVSU Professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. 

Nordman said the United States has an international obligation to reduce carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement. The goal aims to reduce carbon emission by 50-52%  by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. 

However, the U.S. is already off track from this goal and has not made greater progress to reducing emissions. Additionally, the Willow Project would increase emissions, preventing the U.S. from upholding their role in the Paris Agreement. 

“If this goes through and this project actually gets built and is extracting oil for 30 years, assuming there is a market and oil is being burned, that will take us well past the 2050 commitment to get to net zero,” Nordman said. 

Unfortunately for climate activists, their initiatives were ultimately squashed when the Biden Administration gave the green light to ConocoPhillips. However, ConocoPhillips will now have to work through different legal barriers.

According to CNN, a major environmental law group called Earthjustice is planning on filing a complaint against ConocoPhillips and the Biden Administration, in order to block the project from moving forward. 

However, some proponents see value in the financial benefits of the Willow Project. Alaskan lawmakers urged Biden to approve the project as it would boost the local revenue and create jobs for Alaskans. 

Other economic concerns that surround oil drilling is the concept of leakage. If oil drilling stops due to limited availability, bans on drilling in a specific location, or other similar reasons, fossil fuel prices will rise until another company expands to a new location. Then the cycle of supply and demand continues.

After the approval of the Willow Project’s, many other petroleum companies could receive approval for similar projects from the federal government. 

Although it is currently unclear how the project will move forward, the Willow Project remains at the center of controversy and presents many potential costs and benefits, both for native Alaskans and across the nation.