The winds of change in the Willow Project
Earlier this month, the Biden administration approved the Willow Project: a major oil drilling operation proposed by Alaska’s largest crude oil producer ConocoPhillips to run over the span of 30 years. The project has drawn global controversy from environmental activists who are calling out that the approval directly contradicts Joe Biden’s campaign promise from 2020: “No more drilling on federal lands. PERIOD”. Despite climate concerns, the Willow Project passed an Internal Environmental Review, and can begin development (pending current legal challenges), under the condition that the plan is downsized from five drilling sites to three, and other measures are implemented to prevent expansion. Regardless, climate activists who label the project a ‘Carbon Bomb’, are rallying to stop it altogether.
On the other hand, supporters of the project including Alaska political representatives, a number of community members and the community group Voice of the Arctic are welcoming the plan, on the basis that it will enhance economic activity. In a time when inflation is at its highest in four decades, and international factors have contributed to rising fuel prices, there are compelling economic reasons to defend the drilling operation.
Over its lifetime, the Willow Project is expected to produce emissions equivalent to 1.7 million cars while delivering $8-$17 billion in revenue for the United States.
“It is time to start approving common sense development projects like Willow,” proclaimed Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, whose position is that the need to create economic growth for the United States outweighs long-term climate considerations.
ConocoPhillips agrees with Murkowski that the Willow Project will create positive outcomes for the economy, and posits that climate concerns—whilst valid—have been overstated. The company, in their Environmental Impact Statement, have thoroughly ensured that their plans adhere to environmental requirements, including mitigating the inconvenient effects of climate change. In one part of the statement, they even describe their intention to refreeze the permafrost in the area needed for the project development; permafrost which has been melting due to climate change, exacerbated by increasing global emissions
(no, definitely no irony here).
But ConocoPhillips want to make it clear they totally care about the environment. In fact, they say so on their website in a one-page long ‘Climate Change Position’ which includes some rather vague promises to “understand” their climate footprint and “reduce” their “emissions intensity” (which is a clever corporate ploy to feature the buzzwords ‘reduce’ and ’emissions’ in the same sentence, without actually requiring a reduction of their emissions).
So what can we as individuals do?
In an increasingly global society, where certain decisions can impact everyone on Earth, it is becoming more important for nations to speak out against approvals like this which contradict global aims to reduce green-house gas emissions. But, it’s not that simple. And even if it was, that doesn’t make it easier for any of us personally to make any difference.
And I can’t disagree; the power to make these decisions, or to effect real change, is just simply not in our hands. The best thing we can do, as a generation, is to assertively place climate action at the top of the agenda. You can do this by voting for climate-conscious parties (like in the upcoming general election!), taking your voice to the streets, or to social media.
As a final note, I feel it is important to emphasise that the Willow Project does not just contribute to emissions in the atmosphere. It also revalidates a precedent of serving economic interests over environmental ones; a decision which is only going to ensure that the irreversible effects of climate change become our reality.