Photo by ConocoPhillips on CNN
An Explanation, Details, and Impacts
The Willow Project. The name might be familiar, as news about the Willow Project and its recent approval have been a prominent topic of discussion in the news lately; but what is actually happening and what are some effects that the project’s installation might have on the environment? It all dates back to 2016, when oil was discovered in the Willow prospect area of Alpine, Alaska. This location is home to the National Petroleum Reserve in the Plain of North Slope Alaska and is also home to a variety of Arctic wildlife and Native American communities. The Willow Project was initiated by the multinational corporation ConocoPhillips which proposed a massive oil and gas drilling project that will be the largest oil extraction put forward on federal lands to date. It is estimated that in the next 30 or so years, approximately 250 metric tons of CO2 will be emitted into the atmosphere due to this plan.
Furthermore, if the Willow Project produces the expected amount of oil over a 30 year time period, it is estimated that the consumption of that oil would release the equivalent of 277 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The project could also produce up to 600 million barrels of oil, which would severely impact the Arctic wildlife and Native American communities in this region. For example, the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd is an imperative source of food for the Nuiqsut community which resides nearby. Many in the community have expressed concern on how the oil and gas extraction have led to sick fish, malnourished animals used for food (such as caribou), and an unhealthy, borderline toxic air quality.
These adverse effects produce a strong risk of damage to the complex local tundra ecosystem and shockingly, the release of these greenhouse gasses could amount to the estimated total amount of annual emissions from half a million homes. These drawbacks have not gone unnoticed; on March 14, 2023, the EarthJustice organization filed a lawsuit on behalf of conservation groups to stop the Willow Project. Despite these efforts, the Willow Project has been approved and ConocoPhillips has begun to work their plan into action.
So, what is the ConocoPhillips corporation and what is its background? This corporation has a complicated history, including many controversial legal settlements. In May of 2019, ConocoPhillips settled a lawsuit with homeowners in northwestern Oklahoma City who accused the company of polluting their soil and water to such a degree that no vegetation would grow; and, in May of 2017, ConocoPhillips agreed to a $39 million settlement to resolve complaints brought forward by the State of New Jersey over groundwater contamination. Most famously, they were one of the 50 companies named in a 2007 lawsuit filed against manufactures, distributors, and other industrial users of the gasoline additive and proven carcinogen MTBE, found in groundwater at locations throughout New Jersey.
Photo by CBS News on CBS
What Can We Do?
The Willow Project is undoubtedly controversial, and has drawn both environmental and political debate since news of the project’s potential approval broke earlier this year. Discussions regarding the harmful effects that the Willow Project could potentially have on the environment have proved to be a key argument against its approval. Although the Willow Project has since been approved, there are still several actions that we can take both in our own communities and nationwide in order to stop work on the project from taking place.
Take legislative action. Writing a letter to your local government representative, state legislation officials, and even the White House is an important step that you can take to demonstrate climate activism and work toward stopping the Willow Project in its entirety. While one letter may not seem to amount to much, if many individuals contribute to this common cause, it would make an immense difference.
Spread awareness. Whether it be through a social media post or sharing knowledge with your peers, spreading awareness is vital in order for every individual to understand what the Willow Project is and the effects that it could have on the environment. The more people know about the Willow Project and the ecological consequences that will follow, the greater the chance that important legislation will be enacted to prevent the project from taking place in Alaska. Together, we can make a difference.
Volunteer with environmental protection groups. Today, there are several environmental protection organizations working to inform and act on the Willow Project. EarthJustice (https://earthjustice.org/), Protect Our Winters (https://protectourwinters.org/), and Defenders of Wildlife (https://defenders.org/) are just a few of the organizations that are working to collect information about the Willow Project and work to combat its installation. Contacting and volunteering with an environmental advocacy group, such as the three listed above, can help you to get involved with an important cause firsthand.