Biden’s Willow Project: The Planet’s Death Warrant?

March 14th, 2023 - by Oil Change International & People Vs Fossil Fuels & The Guardian UK

Scientists, Activists, Native People Condemn
Biden’s Approval of Willow Oil Project

Oil Change International & People Vs Fossil Fuels & The Guardian UK

(March 13, 2023) — This morning, President Biden formally approved the Willow Master Development Project, a massive oil drilling development across federal land in Alaska’s western Arctic.

Despite his promises to stop drilling on federal lands, and against the actions of millions who urged his administration to stop Willow, President Biden decided to approve the massive oil project. The project would lock-in pollution equivalent to the emissions of 76 coal-fired power plants over the next 30 years.

The world cannot afford to develop any new fossil fuel reserves to have a chance of keeping global temperatures below the 1.5°C threshold outlined in the Paris Agreement. The Biden administration must prioritize a just transition to renewable energy, stop new fossil fuel projects, and phase-out existing fossil fuel infrastructure.

Developing new fossil fuel projects is incompatible with a livable climate and puts communities’ health and safety at risk. The Willow project will disproportionately harm the Alaska Native Village of Nuiqsut, which is already burdened by existing fossil fuel infrastructure and the impacts of climate change.

We’ll keep you updated about what’s next in the fight against Willow. In the meantime, here are links to a few of the responses from us and our partners that you can read and amplify:

  1. This statement from the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic (SILA)on how the approval of the Willow project abandons our climate promises.
  2. This TikTok from Elise Joshi of Gen Z for Climate Changecalling on people to flood President Biden’s social media with outrage over the decision.
  3. This Twitter threadfrom us at Oil Change International echoing frontline calls condemning Biden’s approval of the Willow project.

Allie Rosenbluth is the US Program Co-Manager for Oil Change International

Coalition Condemns Biden Administration’s
Approval of the Willow Oil Drilling Project

People Vs Fossil Fuels

(March 13, 2023) — People vs. Fossil Fuels, a national coalition of over 1,200 frontline, climate justice, and progressive organizations, strongly condemned the Biden administration for its decision to approve the Willow Oil Drilling Project — a major oil drilling operation to be constructed on Alaska’s North Slope that has been loudly opposed by the environmental and climate justice community, including Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic and Alaska Wilderness League.

The decision ignores widespread opposition that grew rapidly since Feb. 1st, when the Biden administration signaled it would approve the project in the release of its final environmental impact statement.

In the month following, over 2.3 million new comments were submitted to the White House urging President Biden to deny the project. A petition grew overnight, reaching over 3.2 million signatures, the largest environmental petition the site has seen in years. #StopWillow videos from a diverse array of young creators went viral online, with an estimated 200+ million views across social platforms.

The Willow Oil Project locks us into decades of fossil fuel pollution at a time when we desperately need to stop all new fossil fuel projects and begin rapidly phasing out existing production. The approval is a denial of climate science, and directly contradicts the administration’s commitment to protect wilderness areas in Alaska from resource extraction and Biden’s own stated climate goals.

In response, People vs. Fossil Fuels released the following statement:
Global scientists have been absolutely clear: We must end fossil fuel expansion if we are going to avoid irreversible climate devastation and immediate harm to frontline communities. Approving a massive new oil-drilling project that is estimated to release 280 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses when we are already in a climate emergency is signing away our future. 

“Biden’s presidential powers allow him to reject all new fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency that would ensure the survival of our communities and our planet. Instead, he is choosing to fatten the wallets of Oil CEOs by expanding fossil fuel infrastructure that will drive us further into climate chaos.

“The fight to #StopWillow and all new fossil fuel projects isn’t over. Our movement to fight fossils is continuing to grow — and we’ll continue to fight for a livable future in line with science and justice.” 

Click here to read SILA’s full statement on the Willow project approval.

Al Gore Warns New Alaskan Drilling Plan
Would Be ‘Recklessly Irresponsible’

Oliver Milman / Guardian UK

(March 11, 2023) — Al Gore has warned it would be “recklessly irresponsible” to allow an enormous, controversial oil drilling project to proceed in Alaska, speaking ahead of a decision from the Biden administration on whether to approve it. Gore spoke amid growing alarm among Democrats and campaigners that the Willow development will drastically undermine the US’s effort to confront the climate crisis.

The vast, multi-billion-dollar ConocoPhillips oil project, to be situated on the tundra of Alaska’s northern Arctic coast, is awaiting approval from the federal government that could arrive as soon as Friday. Gore, the former US vice-president and leading climate advocate, told the Guardian that the planned drilling would threaten local communities as well as the task of curbing dangerous global heating.

“The proposed expansion of oil and gas drilling in Alaska is recklessly irresponsible,” Gore said. “The pollution it would generate will not only put Alaska native and other local communities at risk, it is incompatible with the ambition we need to achieve a net zero future.

“We don’t need to prop up the fossil fuel industry with new, multi-year projects that are a recipe for climate chaos,” Gore added. “Instead, we must end the expansion of oil, gas and coal and embrace the abundant climate solutions at our fingertips.”

The Willow project has become a leading target for climate campaigners due to the huge volume of planet-heating emissions it could unleash. The drilling operation would extract up to 180,0000 barrels of oil a day, about 1.6% of total US oil production from one site alone. In a grim irony, ConocoPhillips has said it may have to re-freeze ground that is rapidly thawing as the Arctic heats up in order to stabilize the drilling equipment.

This drilling would result in 278 million tons of greenhouse gases over a 30-year lifespan of the development, according to the administration’s own estimates, the equivalent of adding 2m gasoline-consuming cars onto the road or running more than 70 coal-fired power plants for a year. The pollution produced would comfortably wipe out the emissions saved from all renewable energy projects on US public lands by 2030.

Arctic warming is off the charts!

The Department of the Interior has said it has “substantial concerns” about the Willow project’s impact upon the climate and the subsistence lifestyle of native Alaskan communities but has completed an environmental review of the development that it said would improve it, such as drilling at three sites rather than five and reducing the number of roads and other infrastructure that would be built in the wilderness.

The prospect of the administration approving a full or abridged version of the project has sparked alarm among local communities, climate campaigners and Biden’s Democratic allies.

The International Energy Agency has said no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built if the world is to avoid disastrous climate change and two dozen Democrats in Congress have written to Biden warning that Willow poses “a significant threat to US progress on climate issues”. The lawmakers called upon the president to “stop this ill-conceived and misguided project”.

A wave of opposition to the Willow project has hit the White House in recent weeks, including in-person rallies in Washington DC and a viral #StopWillow campaign on social media. An online petition calling for the project to be halted has garnered more than 3m signatures. Critics have pointed out the project fatally undermines Biden’s promise to deal with the climate crisis, which he has called an “existential threat” to humanity.

“President Biden continues to address climate change during high-profile speeches and events but his actions are contradictory,” said Siqiniq Maupin, executive director of the Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, an Indigenous group that has warned the project would endanger the subsistence lifestyle of native communities that rely upon the migration of a caribou herd, as well as other established patterns in the environment, to live in their Arctic surrounds.

The first people impacted will be indigenous Iñupiat families.

Biden has come under pressure from proponents of the project, too, with Alaskan lawmakers and some native groups arguing Willow would create much-needed jobs and investment for the region.

Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, has called the size of the project “minuscule” and that it has been “meticulously planned” to avoid harm to the environment.

The battle over Willow is likely to end up in the courts, with environmental advocates vowing to keep fighting any iteration of the project. “I think that litigation is very likely,” said Jeremy Lieb, a senior attorney for Earthjustice. “We and our clients don’t see any acceptable version of this project.”

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