di Laura Sommavilla

The “Willow project” is an enormous oil drilling project that will be developed in Alaska and was announced in January 2017. It was initially approved by the Trump administration in 2020. It also obtained the endorsement of president Biden, who had to go up against enviromental groups, witch highlighted the high risk of enviromental impact.
Even after all the recommendations of the environmentalists, sadly the project got approved by the U.S  department of the Interior on 13 march 2023. This decision was taken the day after the Biden administration had announced additional protections for the National Petroleum reserve – Alaska and the Artic Sea.

Who started this project?

The project was started by the energetic company ConocoPhillips, which had been drilling  for years to find oil in Alaska.  Currently there are two other operative projects that, in comparison to what the Willow Project could be, are almost  irrelevant. 

What does it consist of?

According to what the Biden administration approved, ConocoPhillips will be authorized to develop only three wells, when they originally asked for five. This oil and gas extraction project is one of the biggest on federal public lands and  it could emit almost 287 MIO(milions) tons of carbon pollution in the next thirty years, which equals to the reactivation of a third of all the coal-fired power plants in the United States.
And we must not forget that one of the major risks we are already facing due to global warming is the melting of permafrost in the tundra and arctic region and the consequent release into the atmosphere of all the substances which are currently trapped beneath it, such as radon, methane, carbon dioxide and microbes.
Concluding, Willow will be in fact an ecological “catastrophe” that will impact tundra and migrations of animals like caribous and will endanger even more others such as the polar bear, which is currently starving due to the disappearing of ice banks.

It will cause annual emissions equal to 76 new carbon electric centrals.  Furthermore to complete a project like this one, new structures like bridges, streets, etc. will be required, thus damaging the already delicate balance of the arctic ecosystem.
In addition, Willow’s approval could set in motion a westward expansion of oil development in extra environmentally sensitive areas, critical to both the livelihoods and protection of wildlife, which are already made vulnerable by climate changing.
The reserve is home to polar bears, musk oxen, caribous and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, now all declared endangered species.
These animals are also a vital livelihood resource for Native communities in northern and western Alaska.

What do the environmentalists think about it?

The executive director of the Sierra Club,  (the largest environmental organization in the US); Ben Jealous strongly criticized the decision: “We can’t drill our way to a sustainable future. We must conserve public lands, not sell them off to corporate polluters. The harmful effects of President Biden’s decision cannot be overstated. By allowing ConocoPhillips to move forward with this operation, he and his administration have made it almost impossible to achieve the climate goals they set for public lands. Willow will be one of the largest oil and gas operations on federal public lands in the country, and the carbon pollution it will spew into the air will have devastating effects for our communities, wildlife, and the climate. We will suffer the consequences of this for decades to come.
While we celebrate the administration’s unparalleled protections for Alaskan landscapes and waters, the decision to approve the Willow project may very well wipe out many of these climate and ecological benefits. And by approving one of the largest oil and gas extraction projects on federal public lands, one must ask the question what the Biden administration has in store for the Arctic Refuge.”

But what can we do to stop it?

Each and every one of us, even if in our own small way, can do something, just signing a petition (linked down below) founded by change.org, the main platform to collect subscriptions.
Right now they are currently trying to get 6,000,000 signatures and, if that goal is reached, this petition will be in the top 10 of the most signed ever on change.org.