On Monday, March 13, President Joe Biden’s administration announced it would be signing onto an oil drilling program in Alaska known as the Willow Project. Completed by Texas-based oil company ConocoPhillips, the Willow Project would allow the drilling of over 23 million acres of land in the rural North Slope of Alaska, allowing for the production of over 180,000 barrels of oil a day, which would then be sold domestically throughout the United States. Despite bipartisan political support for it, the Willow Project is an environmental catastrophe and a terrible reversal of Biden’s administration policies.
The Biden administration has estimated that the Willow Project would “produce around 277 million metric tons of carbon dioxide during its lifetime, or around 9.2 million tons per year.” That number is roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon emissions released if “2 million gas-powered cars” were added to American roads. The total amount of oil projected to be drilled over the 30-year course of the project is nearly 600 million barrels, which is currently 1.5 times the total amount of oil that the United States stores.
Due to the high number of jobs expected to be created as a result of the Willow Project, there are many — especially in Alaska — who support it. Many local leaders have pointed out the benefits of the project, including certain local Indigenous officials who live in the area. They say that the Willow Project will bolster the economy in the area, providing jobs and additional revenue for education and other infrastructure investments. Many also support the Willow Project because of the fact that it would increase United States oil production, leading to less dependency on foreign oil.
However, the harms of the Willow Project, namely its detrimental effects on the environment, high level of carbon emissions and negative consequences on wildlife, far outweigh any of the aforementioned benefits. Despite promising to stop the creation of additional oil and gas drilling on public land and waters during his 2020 campaign, Biden is now totally reversing his initial stance and allowing a project that will further global warming in the Arctic, an area that has already seen rising temperatures at nearly “three times the global average.” The increase in greenhouse gas emissions will only harm wildlife living in the area and accelerate global warming.
Yet, the Biden administration has ultimately decided to sign off on the Willow Project, even though a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that our Earth will have reached a critical temperature by the 2030s. The only way to prevent the furthering of global warming and, perhaps, stop the Earth from reaching uninhabitable temperatures, is to put an end to oil and gas drilling, which releases carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. The Willow Project might prove profitable to billion-dollar oil companies, but is it truly worth the risk of rendering the Earth inhospitable?
While the Willow Project might objectively bring much-needed revenue into the Alaskan North Slope area, it is possible to convince those who may benefit from it that the costs to the environment outweigh any benefit, especially in an emergency. Creating more sustainable jobs and investing in clean energy, for instance, could be one way to offset and prevent future projects like this from occurring. Additionally, if the government decided to create policies that would stop oil drilling projects and prevent the Willow Project from being profitable, it could push Alaskan workers and others to be against it. Instead of spending time and money on big oil projects, the government could be supporting and funding green energy initiatives that create jobs just as well.
The Biden Administration has already faced legal action for its signing off on the Willow Project from a multitude of environmental organizations, including the National Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice. The Biden administration’s inconsistent energy and climate change policies are detrimental to making sure that global warming is curbed before it becomes too late — if fighting climate change is truly a priority for the Biden administration, as it has claimed, then its authorization of the Willow Project is simply wrong. Additionally, the approval of the Willow Project may set a model for even more harmful environmental projects to be approved.
“We are too late in the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden Administration committed to advancing,” Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen said in a statement, and Dillen is right. If the Biden administration wants to make sure that we do not reach the level where climate change threatens humanity, it should not have approved of this project.
The outpouring of opposition to the Willow Project by environmental groups and scientists is an optimistic aspect of this story, where many do recognize the effects it will have on the environment and efforts to curb climate change. On social media, a movement called “#StopWillow” was trending in response to this news, and a petition to stop the project gained more than 3.1 million signatures. Legal and public protests are probably the most efficient way that Willow will be stopped, but only time will tell if the Biden administration may eventually realize the terrible mistake it has made in authorizing the project.
Samantha Rigante is a freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law.