What is the Willow Project? And Why Are Kids The Loudest Critics?
The Willow Project has made headlines as an environmental catastrophe, but what is it and how bad is it really? As the project sends waves through platforms like Change.org and TikTok, if you have kids or younger siblings, you may have heard about it first from them.
The Willow Project Explained
The Willow Project is the name given to an oil-drilling operation set to commence in Alaska. Behind it is a US oil company called ConocoPhillips. With the Willow Project’s recent approval by the Biden administration, controversy has broken out concerning the environmental impact the decades-long project will have.
Why is the Willow Project Bad For the Environment?
According to the US government’s estimations, the Willow Project will release 9.2 million metric tons of carbon each year, with carbon being one of the worst contributors to global warming. The environmental harm this does is equal to that of adding 2 million petroleum cars to the roads.
According to CNN: “Over the course of 30 years, climate groups have estimated it would release around 278 million metric tons of carbon pollution, which is more than what 70 coal-fired power plants could produce every year.”
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Why did Biden approve the Willow Project?
Many wonder what happened to Joe Biden’s election promises to join the fight against climate change.
The Willow Project was first approved by the Trump administration in 2020, and then approved by the Biden administration in 2023. Biden’s administration reduced the number of drill pads the oil company wanted to construct from 5 to 3, with talks of reducing it further to 2.
Government sources have reported that the Biden administration felt it faced legal challenges from the oil company ConocoPhillips if they did attempt to halt or reduce the project any further. The oil giant already enjoys existing leases in the locations it was looking to drill, and the Biden administration thinks there may not have been sufficient legal grounds to order the cessation of the project.
How are people responding?
It is worth noting that young people have been among the most vocal about this blow to climate change - as they will be the generations most likely to endure its consequences. Young people have led the charge on pushing back against the Willow Project, quick to express their disappointment in the US government. A petition on Change.org which garnered over 4,459,195 signatures, and is gaining more by the minute, included the following top comments from young people:
Above: Comments on an anti-Willow Project petition on Change.org
The petition’s goal is 4,500,000.
TikTok has been a major source of activism, possibly due to its very large young user base. People are calling to stop the Willow Project even after its approval.
Above: TikTok activism
The Biden Administration
Following the backlash of their approval of the Willow Project, the Biden administration has begun to make concessions such as reducing the number of drill pads from 3 to 2, including removing the most ecologically harmful of the group. There is no sign of reversing the decision to approve the project outright.
The idea of reducing the drill pads from 3 to 2 has been met with retaliations, include the following statement by Alaska's Republican Senator Dan Sullivan:
"If they go to two pads, we have told them we will view it 100% as a full denial. Conoco has made it clear it would not be economically viable, and we have warned the White House: Don't try to be cute."
Environmental Protection Groups
Earthjustice, an environmental law group, is readying itself to take legal action against the project, including seeking an injunction to stall it.
Construction can only take place during the Alaskan winter, due to its dependence on ice roads, which means any prolonging of a decision until after winter’s end in April could delay the Willow Project for up to an entire year.
Several other environmental and indigenous groups will join this legal opposition, including SILA, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, the Sierra Club, Environment America and the Wilderness Society.
Most of Alaska seems to be in favour of the project, citing more jobs and increased oil production on US soil.
Still, Alaskan communities closest to the source of the project argue they will be more directly adversely affected by the proposed project and its pollution. Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak stated: “We are at ground zero for the industrialization of the Arctic.”
Towards Renewable Energy
The Willow Project is bringing climate change into our living rooms and across our dinner tables, with children and teenagers increasingly being the most vocal opponents.
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