Earthjustice Reacts to Biden Administration’s Approval of Willow Project in Alaska

Decision greenlights a carbon bomb and opens decades of oil drilling in Western Arctic


Jackson Chiappinelli,, (585) 402-2005

The Biden administration today announced its approval of ConocoPhillips’s Willow project, ignoring pleas from millions who called for the Alaska oil-drilling plan to be halted due to concerns about climate change. The Interior Department released a record of decision (ROD) that largely reflects ConocoPhillips’s desired project blueprint and ignores its dire climate and biodiversity impacts. Approval of the Willow project stands in stark contrast to President Biden’s climate goals and commitment to the Paris agreement.

Interior’s decision approves three drilling pads, which combined will produce 92% of the oil ConocoPhillips initially sought to develop, a staggering climate impact amounting to more than 260 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHG). The GHG emissions from Willow will equal that of 56 million cars driven for one year, or nearly 70 coal fired power plants operating for one year. This project is also intended to be a stepping-stone for future development. ConocoPhillips has described Willow to its investors as the “next great Alaska hub,” saying it had identified up to 3 billion barrels of nearby prospects that could be accessed if the Willow infrastructure were in place. ConocoPhillips holds about 1 million of the 2.5 million acres already under lease in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

As part of the decision to approve Willow, the Biden administration also finished the job of protecting federal Arctic waters from new oil and gas leasing and announced a process to increase protections of important biological areas in the Western Arctic. These are positive steps, and we applaud them. However, they cannot compensate for the harm and disruption to the climate and to the Western Arctic and its residents that Willow would inflict for years to come. 

Willow — set to become the largest new oil project on U.S. public lands — will also permanently alter the globally significant and ecologically rich Western Arctic by disrupting animal migration patterns, eroding precious habitat, harming subsistence practices, and posing unacceptable health risks for Alaska Native communities.

Today’s ROD follows a final supplemental environmental impact statement that was released in February, at which time the Biden administration acknowledged “substantial concerns” about the Willow project including its greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence. Since then, around 5.6 million people have called on the Biden administration to prioritize climate progress, the environment, and Indigenous communities over widely harmful industry demands. 

Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen issued the following statement in response:

“We are too late in the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden administration committed to advancing. We know President Biden understands the existential threat of climate, but he is approving a project that derails his own climate goals.”

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