An $8 billion (£6 billion) drilling project approved by the Biden administration has drawn intense criticism from environmentalists and some Alaskan Native communities, who say it will be a contributor to climate breakdown and food insecurity.
As one of the largest oil and gas projects on US soil, ConocoPhillips Willow will involve drilling for oil and gas across three sites over multiple decades on the 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve, owned by the federal government and the largest tract of unexplored public land in the country.
Over 30 years, it is expected to produce 576 million barrels of crude oil, peaking at 180,000 barrels per day. This extraction, which ConocoPhillips has said may, ironically, involve refreezing the rapidly thawing Arctic permafrost to stabilize drilling equipment, would create one of the largest “carbon bombs” on US soil, potentially producing more than twice as many emissions than all renewable energy projects on public lands by 2030 would cut combined.
Environmental campaigners and Native representatives are outraged over the approval, calling it a contradiction to Joe Biden's climate campaign. Over the project's lifespan, 260 million tons of greenhouse gases will be released, equivalent to 70 coal-fired power plants.
“Approving the Willow Project is an unacceptable departure from President Biden’s promises to the American people on climate and environmental justice,” said Lena Moffitt, executive director of the climate group Evergreen Action. “After all that this administration has done to advance climate action and environmental justice, it is heartbreaking to see a decision that we know will poison Arctic communities and lock in decades of climate pollution we simply cannot afford.”
The approval came as the interior department announced it was going to ban any future oil and gas drilling in the US Arctic Ocean, as well as protect millions of acres of Alaska land deemed sensitive to Native communities. But the Willow decision has still stirred anger.
Over one million letters have been sent to the White House opposing the project, a Change.org petition has been signed by over three million people, and a viral campaign has started on TikTok and other social media.
The Native Movement, an Alaska-based grassroots movement, claims Willow developers have not done enough research on the cumulative effects of their projects on the Arctic slope of Alaska – which is home to 60,000 Teshekpuk Lake caribou herds, which have been historically important food sources.
In Nuiqsut, the closest Alaska Native community, locals have complained about sick fish, malnourished caribou, and toxic air quality caused by oil and gas extraction in their ancestral homelands.
“The Biden administration’s approval makes it clear that its call for climate action and the protection of biodiversity is talk, not action,” said Sonia Ahkivgak, social outreach coordinator at the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic group. “The only reasonable solution to the climate emergency is to deny new fossil fuel projects like Willow. Our fight has been long, and also it has only begun. We will continue to call for a stop to Willow because the lives of local people and future generations depend on it.”
Indigenous people have been at the forefront of the battle against climate change, and the President's approval for this oil drilling project will directly harm their communities and contribute to the biggest climate threat to our way of life.
Source: The Guardian