The Willow Project – What do you need to know

Whoever that had Tik Tok on the year 2023 must have heard about the #stopthewillowproject. The hashtag was on the rise in various social networks, attracting the attention of millions of internet users to the operation that is running in the United States. The collective commotion was due to the fact that the current US president, Joe Biden, approved a plan for a large oil acquisition in Alaska, which expects more than 3 million barrels of oil with the project in force. However, how does this affect global trade relations, local communities and nature? The Willow Project involves the exploration of a vast area of ​​oil and gas reserves in Alaska, which could bring financial benefits to the country, but also cause irreversible damage to the environment and the indigenous communities that live in the region. Thus, we will analyze the contrasts between arguments. The project was initiated by the oil company ConocoPhillips, which has owned the area’s exploration rights since 2018, and approved by Biden in November 2020. This area is known as the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve (ANWR), which covers about 78,000 square miles of public land in the far north of the state.

The ANWR is considered one of the last intact wilderness areas in the world, home to rich biodiversity and an ancient culture of Inupiaq people. The region is also strategic for US energy security, as it contains billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. It is estimated that the Willow Project could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day for 30 years, which would represent about 10% of current national production. To carry out the project, ConocoPhillips intends to build a range of infrastructure at the ANWR, including five drilling rigs, well strings, pipelines, roads, bridges, airports and fields to house the workers. The company says it will take measures to minimize the environmental and social effects of the project, such as advanced technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, avoid sensitive areas for wildlife and respect the rights of indigenous peoples. Supporters of the Willow Project argue that it will bring economic benefits to the United States and Alaska, especially after a crisis period brought with Covid-19 pandemic. The project would encourage local investment, generate tax revenue and create thousands of direct and indirect jobs in the region. They claim that the project will increase the energy independence of the United States and reduce dependence on foreign sources of oil and gas. 

President Biden defended his decision to pass the bill by saying it went through a rigorous environmental review process, that it complies with applicable laws in the country,  that he is committed to the transition to a low-carbon economy and that will invest in renewable energy sources and measures to combat climate change. However, opponents of the Willow Project argue that it should be stopped due to its impact on climate and wildlife. It is just inconsistent with the goals that the United States and other countries have set to slow the effects of climate change. The project will contribute to increasing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. According to estimates by the US Office of Land Management (BLM), the project will generate up to 278 million tons of CO2 over its 30-year lifetime – equivalent to an increase of two million cars in the North American fleet each year.

Also, it is necessary to emphasize how carbon emissions affect the planet in different ways. Carbon dioxide is primarily responsible for global warming by retaining solar radiation, acting as a thermal blanket for the Earth, and human actions cause the natural cycle to be modified. In turn, global warming can have catastrophic effects on life on Earth – such as melting glaciers, intense heat waves, tsunamis and altering food chains. This way, going back to the Willow project, oil drilling itself doesn’t release carbon directly into the atmosphere. However, the burning of fossil fuels such as oil is one of the main sources of CO2 emissions. In addition, oil extraction can have other indirect environmental impacts that can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, building infrastructure for oil extraction can lead to deforestation and the release of carbon stored in forests. ConocoPhillips states that its core mission is to invest in developing the energy supply essential to human and economic progress, while effectively managing social and environmental concerns, including climate change.

Finally, the company says it is committed to creating long-term value while improving climate protection and accelerating its contribution to the energy transition. ConocoPhillips is also a participating signatory to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, also providing next year (2025) $40 million dollars for local communities for municipal projects. However, after all the data presented, will the money available be worth somehow when the cultural significance of the land so as the wildlife and environment around gets destroyed? Finding alternatives for the Willow Project is an act of resistance to try to maintain indigenous land protected, and a way to do this is finding other fuel sources, such as hydrogen. Many studies already predicted hydrogen as the “future fuel”, but as it still needs research to create new adapted automobiles, one source already available is ethanol, generated from vegetable fermentation and being constantly studied to become even more sustainable in its 3rd generation.



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