The Environmental and Economic Impacts of The Willow Project

oil rig
Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

ConocoPhillips is a U.S. oil and gas company that explores and produces crude oil and natural gas deposits. The company acquired a part of Alaska’s North Slope in 1999 and created the Willow Project. The project is meant to be a decades-long operation of drilling oil, estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day at peak production. In 2018, it began the development permitting process and had gained support due to its estimated revenue, its job creation and the amount of resources produced. 

The company estimated the project would create around 2,500 construction jobs and 300 long-term jobs for workers, with a majority of labor being union workers. It is also predicted to generate between $8 billion to $17 billion in new revenue, including $2.3 billion to communities in North Slope through the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska(NPR-A) Impact Mitigation Grant Program, $1.3 billion to the state of Alaska and $1.2 billion to the North Slope Borough. 

The NPR-A Impact Mitigation Grant Program funds city operations, youth and community programs which create jobs. It is required that 50% of the federal revenue from NPR-A is available for the program. Property taxes to the borough and state would fund schools, emergency response capabilities, drinking water and other essential services. 

ConocoPhillips also says the Willow Project will have minimal impact on the lifestyle of Native residents and the environment. On Feb. 23, Nagruk Harcharek, the president of The Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, wrote a letter to White House Senior Officials. The letter included, “We write to make things clear: the majority consensus on the North Slope supports the Willow Project”. In 2022, it was established that “ConocoPhillips reliably meets all applicable environmental mandates, including adherence to approximately 270 mitigation and best practices currently in place for the NPR-A”. 

Environmental activists disagree that the Willow Project benefits outweigh the cost. A petition to President Biden and ConocoPhillips was created and has had over 3 million signatures from supporters arguing that the project should not be approved. Websites like StopWillow and Protect The Arctic have also worked to publish information. StopWillow says the “Willow oil project would pollute and destroy air, water, and lands, with long-term and damaging outcomes to food security, traditional activities, sociocultural systems, and public health in Arctic communities.”

In response to ConocoPhillips saying the project would provide jobs and boost the economy for people in North Slope, StopWillow says that the promise is overstated and “only 1 percent of employed North Slope residents work in the oil and gas industry, and the majority of Willow jobs would be filled by non-residents.” They also add from research done on the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development that the oil and gas industry only provides 3% of jobs in the state and a third of those jobs are filled by non-state residents. 

StopWillow also notes that despite the myth that the Bureau of Land Management doesn’t have the authority to select a no-action alternative for this project, they can. All of ConocoPhillips’ leases and development proposals have the ability to be denied by the government. The law gives them “the power to deny a specific application altogether if it’s impacts cannot be sufficiently mitigated” because the government is obligated to protect the environment. 
CNN politics reported that the Willow project is estimated to “release 9.2 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon pollution a year”, so the decision on the project won’t be taken lightly. The Biden administration is expected to issue a decision soon about the fate of the Willow Project.