A massive oil drilling project approved by the Biden administration went into effect Monday, despite the objections of environmental organizations who believe this plan violates the president’s climate goals.
The ConocoPhillips $8 billion Willow Project is a massive oil drill that spans 30 miles on Alaska’s North Slope in the National Petroleum Reserve. The company says the project is expected to produce 600 million barrels of oil as well as adding around 260 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the next 30 years. According to Carbon Brief, one quarter of the United States’ carbon emissions since 2005 come from fossil fuels on public lands.
“Approving what would be the largest oil extraction project on federal land is incredibly hypocritical from President Biden, who just in the State of the Union [address] called the climate crisis an existential threat.” said Tyler Kruse, the senior communication specialist with Greenpeace USA.
Earth Justice filed a lawsuit on March 15, when the Biden administration first announced the approval of the Willow Project. The lawsuit was on behalf of many other green groups like Greenpeace USA, who also felt betrayed by the president.
Gen Z has joined climate groups in taking the fight for greener solutions to social media. Many videos advocating to stop the Willow Project on TikTok have gone viral along with thousands of reposts to sign the petition to say “no” to the project. The petition had over five million signatures as of Thursday.
“Gen Z has carried a lot of that load as far as educating people and spreading the message,” Kruse said. “There’s one generation that’s actually going to be most impacted by whether or not we act today, and that’s going to be Gen Z. We owe it to them to take action on this thing.”
Samatha Frederico, a freshman studying chemical engineering, said she sees how rough the trade off on both sides is, but says the important thing to consider when approving projects like these is that companies should be more environmentally friendly.
“We need to make sure we have a regulatory framework that regulates these oil companies to make sure they’re being safe, it’s important to be diligent.” Federico said.”It’s such a dire issue (climate change) it’s going to affect us whether we like it or not, so I don’t understand why you wouldn’t care about it.”
Indigenous groups on the North Slope like the Native village of Nuiqsut are highly affected by this as well. On one hand, oil revenues fund local governments as well as dividends to shareholders in the region’s Indigenous-owned corporations according to Alaska Department of Revenue analysis. While some have expressed concerns about the impacts to their lifestyles as well as their voices, heritage, and traditions in a recent article by Grist.
While some people believe climate efforts that were made in the Inflation Reduction Act have been wasted, Robin Craig, a USC professor of environmental law, doesn’t think so.
“This new oil project takes a while to get up and going. We are not yet positioned in the United States to give up our dependence on petroleum,” Craig said. “In the Infrastructure Act, it’s going to take some time to get the infrastructure we need for clean energy built.”
The U.S. is currently in a transitional moment by trying to maintain our standard of living and by transitioning to something less energy intensive according to Craig.
However, Kruse believes that there is no way to achieve Biden’s initial climate goals and the goals of the Paris agreement without phasing out fossil fuel infrastructure.
After the announcement of the Willow Project, data showed that Biden has lost support among young voters as well as independents, according to a poll conducted by Data for Progress. Before the Biden administration announced the Willow Project, 48% of voters ages 18-29 said they approved the way the administration has handled climate change and the environment, but that dropped after the project was announced to now only 35%.
Kruse said that approving these types of progress is a “pretty stupid move” for Biden, who is campaigning for reelection in 2024.
“The youth vote and the climate vote is what helped him win the election in the first place. And now he’s betraying those same voters.” he said.
The Willow Project not only affects the land and species around it, but the surrounding community, too.
“People should start paying attention to it because it’s happening and it’s preventable,” Kruse said. “It is something that if we take action now, we can secure a future we can thrive in.”