It’s time for an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

President Biden and Congress must lead the charge to defeat the climate crisis and build a thriving, just and inclusive clean energy future. Join our work to help make it happen.

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It’s time for an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

President Biden and Congress must lead the charge to defeat the climate crisis and build a thriving, just and inclusive clean energy future. Join our work to help make it happen.

What Is the Willow Project? ConocoPhillips’ Disastrous Plan to Drill in the Western Arctic

ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project is the single largest proposed oil extraction project currently threatening our public lands. Here are four key reasons why the Department of Interior must stop this project once and for all.

Originally published March 2, 2022. Updated July 29, 2022. 

The Arctic is warming rapidly. Fossil fuel companies are to blame. But ConocoPhillips wants to build a massive oil and gas operation in Alaska’s fragile western Arctic. This proposal includes installing artificial “chillers” in the ground under its proposed drilling project so the permafrost won’t melt as they draw out millions of barrels of oil. It’s totally dystopian. 

Meet the Willow Project, a 30-year plan from ConocoPhillips to drill in sensitive Alaskan ecosystems and near Indigenous communities. It’s the single largest oil extraction project currently proposed on US federal land – and it must be stopped. 

Hold up, what’s the Willow Project?

Back in 2020, the Trump Administration approved the Willow Master Development Plan, better known as the Willow Project – a huge and controversial oil project slated for Alaska’s Western Arctic. Not long after, ConocoPhillips told investors that the development plan would be the “the next great Alaska hub.” In reality, the Willow Project promised to lock us into at least another three decades of catastrophic fossil fuel extraction.

Sounds like a bad idea for the climate? Well, it is. That’s why many environmental advocates breathed a sigh of relief last August, when a federal judge in Alaska halted the project, noting that the Department of Interior had failed to account for the full scope of greenhouse gas pollution and impacts on wildlife that would come with it. 

Fast forward to 2022. Despite scientists issuing a code red for humanity if we don’t rapidly transition away from fossil fuels and to clean energy, ConocoPhillips has announced it still wants to move forward with the Willow Project. Now, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released an incomplete and unacceptably narrow  draft supplemental environmental impact statement to lay out the Willow Project’s impact. Earlier this year, we submitted over 6,600 comments speaking out against the Willow Project—and it’s time to raise our voices again against the project and its devastating costs.

Need more convincing? Here are four key reasons why the Willow Project needs to be stopped. 

#1: The Willow Project pours fuel onto the fire of the climate crisis

Let’s not mince words: the Willow Project would be a disaster for our climate.

Over the next 30 years, the Willow Project could pump between 278 and 287 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution into our atmosphere. That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of 74 to 76 new coal fired power plants—or about a third of all coal plants across the country.

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It’s clear that ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project is incompatible with a safer climate future. In a recent report, the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Center for Climate Change found that there’s no room for any new fossil fuel production facilities if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avert catastrophic global heating. And according to the 2021 Production Gap report co-published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), global fossil fuel production must sharply and immediately decline to be consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. That means the proposed Willow Project flies in the face of our planetary climate target.

What’s more, the Willow Project is irreconcilable with President Biden’s climate commitment to a 50-52 percent reduction in greenhouse gas pollution below 2005 levels by 2030 and meeting net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Willow is a clear example of the kind of project the Biden administration must reject on climate grounds. In the opening days of his presidency, President Biden issued a temporary pause on leasing of public lands and waters. Soon after, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the president’s pause. As the appeal continues, the Biden administration must conduct a full and fair accounting of the climate impacts of increased Arctic fossil fuel expansion—which will show that they’re deeply incompatible with the president’s climate goals, and as such, should be rejected. But the Willow Project’s staggering climate impacts have not been adequately reflected in BLM’s recent draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS). Now, there’s only one safe way forward for our climate and communities: BLM must select the ‘No Action’ option (Alternative A) in the draft SEIS and reject the Willow Project.  

But climate impacts aren’t the only reason why the Willow Project is terrible. 

#2: The Willow Project is bad for environmental justice 

The Willow Master Development Plan is about 36 miles from Nuiqsut, a small Native Alaskan community that is already surrounded by oil and gas activity. Rates of respiratory illnesses have rapidly increased in recent years, and residents point to the increased black carbon pollution that comes from fossil fuel production as contributing to this rise

Meanwhile, over three quarters of the population practice a traditional subsistence lifestyle, spanning fish, whales and caribou. Many residents are concerned that this oil infrastructure development could further exacerbate the industry’s impact on sensitive ecosystems, wildlife, and food security.

As organizations like Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic (SILA) lead the fight against the Willow Project, you can learn more about frontline impacts here

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#3:  The Willow Project is bad for biodiversity 

The Willow Project will also expand into previously undeveloped areas of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, including Teshekpuk Lake, a sensitive and globally significant ecosystem. Teshekpuk Lake is an important calving ground for caribou herds, and the Willow Project would harm wildlife habitat for these caribou, polar bears, and migratory birds, among others. 

#4: Infrastructure from the Willow Project could pave the way for even more drilling

The Willow Project itself includes drilling up to 250 wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. But it would also build up to five new drill pads, a processing facility, hundreds of miles of pipelines, at least one airstrip, and a gravel mine. Many environmental advocates worry that the project would pave the way for even more industrial expansion to the Western Arctic and further compromise the sensitive ecosystem.