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What to know about the Willow project


Oil infrastructure in Alaska. Image Credit: Erin Schaff / New York Times
Intro

On March 13, 2023, the Biden administration approved an adjusted version of the controversial Willow Project. Spearheaded by Alaska’s largest crude oil producer, ConocoPhillips, the project is said to last 30 years, ultimately extracting 600 million barrels worth of oil from Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. The version of the project approved by the Biden administration allows for three drill sites, two less than the five originally proposed by ConocoPhillips. It also lessened the amount of additional infrastructure the corporation is allowed to construct.


Purpose

According to the EIA, the top three source countries of U.S. gross petroleum imports in 2022 were Canada, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. ConocoPhillips has stated that through its production of, at its peak, 180,000 barrels of oil per day, the project will “[decrease] American dependence on foreign energy supplies.”


Environmental impact

Before drilling begins, hundreds of miles of roads, pipelines, and other essential infrastructure will be constructed. According to the TRCP, Willow may result in the loss of 532 acres of wetlands, 619 acres of polar bear habitat, and 17,037 acres of land home to various avian species. The NRDC reports that the project will emit approximately 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually, resulting in a net total of around 250 million metric tons of carbon pollution over its 30 year duration. Although this may seem like a small number compared to the US’s annual emission of 5,981 million metric tons of carbon dioxide gas in 2020, it’s still significant, and will have a detrimental effect on both the Alaskan and global climate.

An oil drilling rig at dusk. Image credit: Lucas Jackson / Reuters
Economic Impact

For many communities in northern Alaska, the Willow project means a potential infusion of capital. According to the New York Times, “About 95 percent of the [North Slope Borough’s] annual $410 million budget comes from local taxes on oil and gas operations.” ConocoPhillips estimates that the project will deliver “$8 billion to $17 billion in new revenue for the federal government, the state of Alaska and North Slope Borough communities.” Willow is also expected to generate more than 2,500 construction jobs and around 300 long-term jobs.


Conclusion

In February of his 2020 campaign, President Biden stated that there would be “no more drilling on federal lands, period”, yet the approved Willow project will move forward in the coming months.

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