It is just days until the Biden administration is set to release a decision on the Willow Project, the first major oil drilling project of its tenure. Proposed by ConocoPhillips, a Petroleum refineries company, the Willow project is a proposal to drill oil and gas in Alaska. It would be located inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a 23 million-acre (93 million-hectare) area on the state's North Slope that is the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States. Alaska Republican US Senator Dan Sullivan said it would potentially be “one of the biggest, most important resource development projects in our state’s history”.
Evidence has shown that the Willow Project would produce the equivalent of more than 278 million tonnes (306 million short tonnes) of greenhouse gasses over its 30-year life. This is roughly equal to the combined emissions from two million passenger cars over the same time period.
There is widespread political support in Alaska, including from those in power — Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy and state lawmakers. However, many climate activists are against it. Environmentalists say approving the project would represent a betrayal by President Biden, and would blow his credibility. Biden promised during his 2020 election campaign to end new oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
According to two sources acquainted with the specifics of the proposal, the Biden administration is considering decreasing the number of permitted drilling pads from three to two and proposing to strengthen environmental conservation measures elsewhere in the state as a way to appease the criticism.
On Wednesday, Alaska’s Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola slammed the idea of reducing drill pads to appease environmental groups.
“If they go to two pads, we have told them we will view it 100% as a full denial,” Sullivan said. “Conoco has made it clear it would not be economically viable, and we have warned the White House: Don’t try to be cute.”
Although the project has both supporters and critics in its home state, it has become a social media lightning rod. Particularly TikTok users have rallied around stopping the initiative over the last week, with an astonishing amount of users monitoring and posting on the subject.
About 50 million people have watched videos with anti-Willow hashtags like #StopWillow in the last week, and on Friday, Willow was listed among the top 10 trending topics on the app.
More than a million emails denouncing the project have been sent to the White House as a result of online activism, and a Change.org petition has garnered 2.8 million signatures and counting.
However, many supporters of the project are sharing their views. The Willow Project is guaranteed to create more jobs, effectively decreasing the unemployment rate.
Cleaner energy is needed but there is a large gap between what we can produce and what we need on a daily basis. Even in Alaska, those who live primarily off the land and the water rely on boats, snowmobiles, and ATVs, all of which require fuel. Gasoline costs as much as $18 per gallon in some rural areas of the state. This is catastrophic for both the economy and the practice of traditional livelihoods, which new energy sources will only support.
Rejecting Willow may seem like a no-brainer for a climate leader like Biden. However the need for energy and jobs was also a crucial part of his campaign.