The Fight and Resistance Over the Willow Project

Jasmine Judge, Business Manager

This morning, President Joe Biden approved the widely disputed Willow Project on the petroleum-rich lands of Northern Alaska. The oil project, proposed by ConocoPhillips — a company that has previously experienced backlash from the public on their oil drilling tactics and environmental exploitation — was initially presented during the Trump Administration but finally reached a settlement this year.

In January 2017, ConocoPhillips claimed to have made a “significant” new oil discovery in the Northern Slope region. Today, the area holds up to 600 million barrels of oil. Even with this extensive yield, it will take years for the project to not only be constructed but for the oil to reach the market.

“They’re only going to be able to produce about 1.5 percent of our total supply; if we are even 5% more efficient in everything that we do, that would certainly free up more oil than the project can produce. That’s why efficiency is kind of like an alternate energy resource,” Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher Pamela Shlachtman said.

Alaska state lawmakers and the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation were victorious today, as they stood as the strongest advocates for the Willow Project. Its supporters argue that the project will generate thousands of new jobs and decrease reliance on foreign oil by increasing domestic energy production. In addition, they claim that the surrounding Alaskan communities will benefit from the taxes established to invest in infrastructure and provide public services.

Another major group of supporters for the Willow Project is a coalition of Alaska Native groups on the North Slope. These natives believe the project will produce revenue that will prove essential for the region and will help fund education and healthcare services.

However, the Willow Project has generated a large amount of controversy, especially over social media; environmental activists across the nation have protested its approval. A petition on collected over three million signatures. At Miami Palmetto Senior High, students on the Student Council’s environmental board hosted a table during lunch on March 10, encouraging students to sign the petition and “say no to the Willow Project.” 

“I think that letter writing and petitions are a great way to get involved. I also think that there are people that are old enough to vote, and to vote certain people out of office that are set on fossil fuels,” Shlachtman said. “If you think about politics, and think about Florida, look at how few people actually vote in the election and look at the electors that represent us.”

Oil has various uses, but its most significant purpose is transportation. In 2021, 67.2% of United States petroleum was consumed by transportation. Shlachtman believes that improving transportation efficiency is key to reducing reliance on oil, and as a result, pollution and release of harmful gases into the atmosphere.

“If cars were just a little more efficient, we wouldn’t need to keep drilling for oil in these places,” Shlachtman said. “The production of oil is also a major contributor to greenhouse gasses. This is the earliest it [has] ever been this hot in Miami; this February was the warmest February on record.”

Young activists make up the majority of protests and petitions against the Willow Project. They demonstrate major concern for their future, and with the world already headed in a negative direction environmentally, their worst fears may be coming to life.

“I think it’s your future, and about what kind of future you want. Do you want a future that’s sustainable or do you want a future that’s unsustainable; continually relying on fossil fuels is an unsustainable future because they are a non-renewable resource,” Shlachtman said.