President Biden Approves Controversial Willow Project

Photo courtesy of Hans-Jurgen Mager on

Sofia Levorchik, Staff Writer

On March 13, President Joe Biden approved ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project, the largest oil extraction project proposed on federal lands, sparking controversy over concerns that it will contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions, lead to the destruction of natural habitats, and contradict his original climate goals. ConocoPhillips wants to drill for oil and gas on Alaska’s North Slope, an area of undisturbed public land that is home to many arctic animals. Over the next 30 years, the project will likely yield 180,000 barrels of oil per day (The Guardian), but, ethically, what does this controversial approval mean for the U.S. and the world?

While there are both positive and negative aspects to the approval of the Willow Project, many environmentalists have taken to social media to voice their concerns and petition against its approval. The project’s potential detrimental environmental effects have been the primary reason for this opposition. The hashtag #StopWillow has gained popularity on TikTok, and a petition against the project has garnered almost three million signatures.

The oil produced by Willow could generate 260 million tons of carbon dioxide (Euronews) and endanger already threatened arctic animals, such as polar bears and penguins, by destroying their natural habitat. Willow also could disrupt the lifestyle and communities of indigenous peoples. In fact, some indigenous groups and environmentalists are suing the federal government, calling the US District Court to reject the approval because of the environmental hazards the project entails.

Despite the backlash, some are in support of the Willow Project because of the economic benefits it will provide for the United States. Members of Alaska’s state government, such as Rep. Mary Peltola (D) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R), support the project. Alaskan native and Democratic Representative Peltola said “After years of consistent, determined advocacy for this project, from people all across the state and from every walk of life, the Willow Project is finally moving forward.” 

Following the immense backlash from environmentalists, the US Interior Department declared that approximately three million acres of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean would be “indefinitely off limits” for oil and gas drilling as an effort to guarantee environmental protection for wildlife. 

The administration has stated that President Biden wishes to continue implementing an aggressive climate agenda, but strike a balance between demands to boost fuel supply to maintain low prices ,and his objectives of having the US become a net-zero contributor to climate change by 2050. Executive director Lena Moffitt of the climate group Evergreen Action reacted to Willow’s approval by saying, “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.”