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The Recent Approval of the Alaskan Willow Project and the Consequences to Arise

Ashley Carver

On March 13, 2023, the Biden administration approved ConocoPhillips’s $8 billion Willow Project— a massive Alaskan oil drilling project to take place within 23 million acres of land: the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). The NPR-A is one of four reserves that were withheld in the 1900s in order to guarantee that the US military would have access to a supply of oil. The project is intended to persist for 30 years, with the intention of producing up to 180,000 barrels of oil every day. This rate of oil production would account for 1.5 percent of the United States’ total oil production. As of now, the Willow Project is the largest oil project to have ever been suggested to take place on US public land. Since the beginning of the year, there has already been an alarming daily rate of oil barrel production at approximately 498,000 barrels a day flowing through the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Responses to this approval were all over the board, receiving both full support and major criticism. Supporters claim that the project will act as an “economic lifeline for indigenous communities”, while environmentalists make the project out to be a “disaster in the fight against global climate change.” Surprisingly, there is immense support for the project within the Alaskan community, including the bipartisan congressional delegation, state lawmakers, as well as the state’s republican governor, Mike Dunleavy. These supporters believe that the project will bring upon tax related benefits to the community as a result of the project’s investment in infrastructure and public services. Criticisers of the project ensured that their oppositional stances were heard; the White House and Department of Interior were sent more than 5.6 million letters, all of which were written by members of the public who had strong opposing feelings toward the newly greenlit project.

The outline of the Willow Project’s operational plans clearly mean bad news for the environment. It is projected that throughout the 30 years of operation the project will release 260 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equating to the amount of carbon released by 56 million cars or 69 coal-fired power plants in one year. In the last six decades, there has already been a three degree increase in the average temperature of the Alaskan region, and the Bureau of Land Management warns that by the end of the century, this rise in temperature could rise fourfold. With the current rate of climate change, environmentalists stress that there is no room to spare in terms of the carbon budget for operations as drastic as the WIllow Project. As part of the project, ConocoPhillips intends to build hundreds of miles worth of roads and pipelines, as well as an airstrip and gravel mine, all of which would be located on public lands. These installments will occur near Teshekpuk Lake, causing significant disturbance to an area that provides important habitats for migratory birds and is one of the most sensitive areas within the Arctic region. The health of Alaska Natives as well as endangered wildlife such as polar bears and caribou will become increasingly at risk due to the project’s operations. The greenlighting of the project will also reverse all of the economic and environmental opportunities created by transitioning to a more sustainable and cleaner economy.

While President Biden was on track to lead the most aggressive climate agenda that the US has ever seen, the public, specifically those against the recent news of approval, are viewing his greenlighting of the project as a betrayal. More land and waters were protected under Biden’s first year of presidency than seen with any other US president since John F. Kennedy, and the Biden-Harris administration brought upon the creation of clean energy manufacturing and jobs. That being said, the Biden administration approving the Willow Project is arguably undoing all of the progress that has been made in relation to climate change mitigation. 

To counteract the approval, Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit to halt the Willow Project, claiming that the administration did not make a thorough assessment of the impacts that the project would have on the climate, and that environmental friendly alternatives were not fully considered prior to giving the project the greenlight. For the sake of preventing a climate disaster, lawful action must be taken to ensure that the Arctic’s oil and gas remains in the ground.


  1. “Biden just approved an Alaska oil drilling project – here’s why that stinks,” Michelle Lewis, Electrek.

  2. “Willow oil drilling project in Alaska: Here’s what to know,” Aljazeera. to unleash a global carbon bomb.text=On%20Sunday%2C%20the%20government%20announced,protections%20in%20the%20petroleum%20reserve.

  3. “Biden Administration Says Yes to the Willow Project. We’ll See Them in Court.," EarthJustice.

  4. “The most absurd thing about ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project,” Environment America.

  5. “3 reasons the Willow Arctic oil drilling project was approved,” Scott Montgomery, Alaska Beacon.


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