The Controversial Willow Project


PHOTO// Landon Arnold on Unsplash

Hannah Osborne, Editor-in-Chief

President Biden is set to decide whether to move forward on the controversial “Willow Project” within the next week.

The Willow Project is an oil extraction project designated on federal Alaskan lands. This would be the largest oil extraction project on American lands and the first major drilling project under Biden’s administration. Alaskan natives, as well as critics of the Biden administration, have differing perspectives on if the project should continue.

Alaskan members of Congress, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R), and Rep. Mary Peltola (D), collectively criticized the proposal to reduce or retract the project due to the economic benefits the project would present.

ConocoPhillips, Alaska’s largest crude oil producer, has pursued the Willow Project since acquiring the land in 1999, working towards acquiring permits and approvals as recently as 2018. The organization operates on what is known as the “North Slope,” near the village of Nuiqsut. The project is set to bring new work and revenue to the North Slope community. Some defenses of protecting the project come from the hopes that it will help the community further develop.

According to ConocoPhillips’ project report, the project will generate an estimated 2,500 construction jobs and 300 long-term jobs. Additionally, it is estimated that around $8.7 billion in royalties and tax revenues will be generated during the project. During peak production, 180,000 barrels of oil are set to be produced per day. Approximately 600 million barrels of oil are expected to be produced during the project’s life.

The organization claims that they have been considerate of the Nuiqsut community. When the whaling captains and other community members expressed “impact concerns regarding the proposed temporary gravel island to be built specifically for unloading sealift modules,” the company reconsidered and proposed an alternative solution.

Contradictory to these claims of consideration, AP reports, “City of Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak…is a prominent opponent who is worried about impacts on caribou and her residents’ subsistence lifestyles. But opposition there isn’t universal.” The village is already facing the effects of oil drilling in the community. In March 2022, a natural gas leak from a ConocoPhillips drill site prompted a partial evacuation of non-essential employees, and members of the village were recommended to be prepared to evacuate if necessary.

Environmentalists have been most vocally opposed to the project citing environmental concerns and Biden’s campaign promises to take environmental protection seriously. The project is estimated to release 9.2 million metric tons of carbon a year, estimating 278 million metric pounds of carbon pollution over a 30-year period. Approval of the project will likely harm Biden’s chances of securing the votes of younger individuals, particularly environmentalists.

In an attempt to find common ground, Biden proposed reducing the number of drilling pads from three to two. This decision could face backlash from both sides as one wants the project to cease altogether, and the other could pursue legal action for the reduction.

While Biden’s decision is expected in the coming days, the final verdict on the matter will likely be an ongoing battle.


Monday, Mar. 13, President Biden approved the Willow Project.