Willow Project faces lawsuits as construction receives greenlight

Olivia Allery, news editor

On March 13, 2023, President Biden signed the approval for the $8 billion construction of the Willow Project. According to the New York Times, the construction will occur on Alaska’s North Slope of the federally owned National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which is also the largest expanse of untouched wilderness in the United States. This oil project was originally approved and then halted under the Trump administration in 2020. Since then, it has been modified and approved by President Biden as pressure from Alaska’s largest crude oil producer and proposer of the project, ConocoPhillips, intensified.

According to EarthJustice, an environmental law firm, this plan was originally approved by the Trump administration in 2020, right before president-elect Biden was sworn into office, but it was met with a fair amount of backlash from conservation groups and a lawsuit. EarthJustice filed the suit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the failure to recognize the climate impact and inaccurate estimates of carbon emissions of the project. The project’s approval was then reversed by a federal judge for flaws in its environmental review process.

ConocoPhillips then modified the project to address the inaccurate review and proposed the project to the White House again. According to CNN, as the decision deadline approached environmental activists rallied and sent over a million letters and collected over 3 million signatures nationwide on petitions to halt Willow. 

EarthJustice has filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of numerous conservation groups against the Bureau of Land Management for again failing to review the environmental impact and asked to stop immediate construction. One of these lawsuits has been rejected already by the Alaskan Federal District Judge Sharon Gleason.

Willow includes the construction of three oil drill pads that are estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day, and over the course of its 30-year schema, could produce over 260 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. According to National Resource Defense Council, this approved project also puts a serious hole in President Biden’s promise to cut the U.S.’s CO2 emissions in half by the year 2030 and the pledge to the UN of keeping global temperatures from rising over 1.5 degrees Celsius each year. Willow also is predicted to have damaging effects on the ecosystems and livelihoods of the NPR-A.

The NPR-A is home to many different Arctic wildlife species such as polar bears, caribou and various migratory birds, all of which would be directly affected by Willow’s construction. Construction, building of gravel roads, increased traffic, and the setting up of man camps disturb and destroy over 17,000 acres of arctic animals habitats, migration patterns and food resources. Not to mention the ripple effect of the increased global temperatures caused from Willow, such as Arctic ice melting, rising sea levels, increase in severe weather, and death to humans and animals.

According to Indian Country Today, the Nuiqsut community of the NPR-A, just 36 miles away from Willow is also joining environmentalists lawsuits against the Bureau of Land Management and have written to the Secretary of Interior, Deb Haaland, expressing serious concern for the project. The predicted changes of the caribou migration and increased melting ice will have serious effects on the Nuiqsut ability to gather food and natural resources from the land, which could change their way of life forever.

As the global temperature continues to rise, time will only tell how big Willow’s impact will be on not only the NPR-A but on the entire planet.