The Willow Project: A ticking ‘carbon bomb’


By Madeline Mechanic, Opinions Contributer

Photo courtesy of CNN Politics

Today, the United States faces one of its most severe environmental threats: the ticking ‘carbon bomb’ known as the Willow Project, the largest oil extraction project ever proposed on US land.

Led by ConocoPhillips Company, the project will take place on Alaska’s North Slope in the National Petroleum Reserve, a 23 million-acre wilderness holding up to 600 million barrels of oil.

The project aims to generate jobs and revenue for the region as well as provide the U.S. with a reliable domestic source of energy.

Despite sounding promising on paper, the Willow Project has received widespread backlash from climate activists, who have banded together to take action against the venture. More than one million letters have been written to the White House in protest. Petitions have been shared across various platforms, accumulating millions of signatures. 

The fierce internet resistance to Willow lulled me, and many others, into a false sense of security. Surely President Joe Biden wouldn’t risk losing voters and support a project that faced this much controversy. Surely, he wouldn’t betray his promise to protect the environment, a cornerstone of his campaign. 

On March 13, Biden did what politicians do best: he broke his promise and lit the fuse on the ‘carbon bomb’.

The only saving grace was that Willow had been scaled back: only three-fifths of the drilling sights were approved, reducing the size of the project by around 40 percent and eliminating the need for 11 miles of road, 20 miles of pipelines and 133 acres of gravel. 

Biden claims to have done all that he could to pacify both the public and the company behind Willow. Outright rejecting the Willow Project would have been impossible for the administration without facing legal action from ConocoPhillips. 

However, the threat of legal action is nothing compared to the threat the Willow Project poses to our world. The site of the Willow Project houses hundreds of thousands of animals, along with several Indigenous communities who have resided in the Western Arctic for thousands of years. 

Oil and gas development risks the health and survival of Alaska’s inhabitants. Long-term consequences threaten food security, public health and the vibrant wildlife of the Arctic.

On a larger scale, the Willow Project has the potential to set back the progress made by the Biden administration. The Bureau of Land Management has estimated that Willow would emit more climate pollution annually than over 99.7 percent of all single-point sources in the country, totaling to around 280 million metric tons of climate pollution to the atmosphere over the next 30 years. 

That’s equivalent to the emissions of 66 coal power plants or adding 2 million gas-powered cars to the roads. 

The legal future for the Willow Project is uncertain. We can cross our fingers for its abolition, but it is in the hands of environmental organizations. Over the past few weeks, they have been working to request an injunction from the courts. If granted, an injunction could temporarily halt the project, giving environmentalists time to construct a more permanent solution.

When it comes to what actions we can take, we’re not lawyers or politicians: we’re teenagers. Nevertheless, we can take active steps to reduce our own energy consumption and live more sustainable lives. 

Past effects of climate change are irreversible and future effects are inevitable. In the present, there’s not much we can do but our own part.

Even so, if there’s anything the Willow Project has shown about activism, it’s yet another example of a common trend throughout history: that millions of people across the globe can rally behind a common cause. The thousands of petitions and millions of letters might not have defused this ‘carbon bomb’ yet, but environmental organizations still stand strong and our support is nevertheless progress. The light at the end of the tunnel is still within reach.

The Willow Project, despite its huge ramifications, has shed light on the good in the world: it has demonstrated the drive and passion of our generation, our care for the natural world and our determination to make a change.

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