The Willow Project raises concerns about environmental safety


Tribune News Service

Russ Vernon-Jones and other climate activists protested March 7, 2022, outside Springfield’s new Chase Bank location on Main Street. Photo permission from Will Katcher/MassLive/TNS.

Chelsea Townsend, Photo Editor

The Willow Project, created by energy production company ConocoPhillips, was approved Monday, March 13, by President Joe Biden. The $6 billion project will create an oilfield in the North Slope Borough in Alaska, which will be used to extract up to 600 million barrels of oil below the surface.

The project will release about 287 metric tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere over its 30-year period. This is the equivalent to the annual emissions from 76 coal-powered power plants.

“The Willow Project will make global warming increase, which is a bad side effect on Earth as a whole, and many people face problems because of global warming,” junior Eesha Kondlapudi said.

Students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have opposing views of this project in regards to the environmental impact it will have on the U.S.

“I think that the environmental impact is a con,” geography teacher Elizabeth Ziolkowski said. “I think we should be moving more towards alternative energies and less towards oil.”

The Willow Project was originally approved by former President Donald Trump but was rejected by an Alaska federal court judge in 2021. This was due to the environment analysis being “flawed,” as the proposal excluded the effects the project will have on global warming. The project was revisited by the Biden administration.

In the new plan, to meet regulations concerning the potential climate impact, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management proposed an alternative after the project’s environmental review. This now limits how much groundwork is constructed and the number of sites, reducing it from five to three.

Alaska state legislators unanimously agreed to endorse the Willow Project, which they claim will have benefits for the U.S. They say it will create jobs, boost domestic energy production and diminish the need for the country to use foreign oil.

“The Willow Project can increase climate change, but it will also help the economy of the U.S.,” sophomore Owen Carson said. “It’ll make America be able to use its own oil, helping us make more money.”

Critics worry that this project will destroy habitats for the native wildlife near the site. Animals like polar bears and caribous are at risk. Additionally, many worry that Alaska Natives who reside in that region will face adverse effects to their health like respiratory issues.

“I don’t really agree with what they’re doing with Alaska because it puts a lot of animals at risk. Also, it’ll affect global warming, which is a big part of why I don’t support it,” freshman Taylor Case said.

Opposers of the Willow Project used their social media platforms to spread awareness about it. TikTokers are among the most vocal social media advocates. Many had posted links to petitions that gathered millions of signatures, explained how to send letters to the Biden Administration or simply informed viewers of the effect it will have on climate change.

This led to increased media coverage of the #StopWillow campaign, where people voiced their opinions about why Biden should not approve this project. However, online pressure was not enough, and the project was approved.

The company incharge, ConocoPhillips, has stated that project construction will begin immediately.