Emely Bonilla | The Poly Post

Environmental activists express concern after Willow Project approval

By Emely Bonilla, March 21, 2023

The Biden administration approved of the Willow Project March 13, a highly debated oil project, after previously stating they felt there “is no greater challenge facing our country and our world” than the climate crisis.

The Willow project was created by a petroleum refinery company named ConocoPhillips. The proposition included detailed framework that planned on new construction on Alaska’s North Slope in the National Petroleum Reserve. 

The approval of this project has caused Alaskan state representatives to thank the Biden administration for what they say will provide their communities at the chance for a better financial future but, environmental advocates stress how this will impact the environment and communities around it.

Marisa Persaud, environmental biology student, revealed how proposals have immense consequences on the planet, such as the Willow Project, have transitioned into a highly politicized game. Persaud iterates how the current state of the environmental crisis has put people of science in a position where they must speak up against any legislation that can lead to more environmental damage.    

“My personal passions involve working with plants and the environment, art and the things of that nature, but now you cannot escape politics,” said Persaud. “We are ultimately going to be asked to step up and speak out about environmental issues whether you want to be or not. You cannot be neutral on these issues.  If you’re neutral it will just lead to an even greater environmental destruction.”

Social media allowed for environmentalists to spread awareness on the Willow Project provided an understanding of why it is important to oppose the Willow plan; it originally proposed five drill sites spanning about 68,000 acres of untouched land. Before the project’s  approval, a change.org petition opposing the project was able to gather over three million signatures and became a trending topic on various social media platforms. 

Emely Bonilla | The Poly Post

Before announcing the ultimate decision for the Willow Project, the Biden administration released a statement revealing how they intended to protect the surrounding Arctic lands and water in Alaska which could potentially minimize the project’s impact on the affected ecosystems. This press release did give the community following this development a bit of relief, but a condensed version of the Willow Project was approved the next day.

This revised version of the Willow Project has approved the development of three out of the five previously pitched drilling stations. The intent behind this downscale was to diminish the impact the construction would have on endangered species and high functioning ecosystems. The three drilling sights would still allow for 90% of the oil anticipated from this project to be successfully gathered. 

Andrea Bonisoli-Alquati, an environmental biology professor, has been following the development of the Willow Project and feels the reaction of the public was necessary and completely warranted.

“We are losing ground, we are losing precious ecosystems that have been untouched, that itself should be enough to stop us from touching these wetlands,” said Bonisoli-Alquati. “We don’t usually think of these Arctic ecosystems as that because they’re so prohibitively cold in winter, but once there are these short summers with long daylight it sustains productive waters and productive terrestrial ecosystems.”

Arctic oil drilling is a business venture that is usually unheard of due to the dangerous and unpredictable conditions that come with construction in these lands. Regardless of the potential dangers ConocoPhillips estimated the completed plan would be able to gather 8 million to 17 million dollars in revenue.  

“Other than the financials that come to our nation there are no positives. We would be financially much better off if we stopped financing fossil fuel. These are going to become stranded assets, if we continue to develop them, they will need to be abandoned soon,” said Bonisoli-Alquati. “They cannot be operating forever; our next fight will become abandoning them.”

Historically the development of oil pipelines and drilling sights has led to unsafe living conditions for several communities nationwide. Caitlyn Cruz, a biology student, revealed how there has already been similar environmental disasters that have had irreversible damage caused by these business projects, yet these propositions continue to get approved.

“I think ‘furious’ is something that I would say fits me better when it come to the Biden administration,” said Cruz. “Talking goes nowhere, acknowledging that it happens does nothing. We need action as a nation to prevent these things from happening.”

Feature image by Emely Bonilla 

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