Cold, hard truth: Biden administration approves potentially problematic project


Courtesy of Danny Green

Following the approval of the Willow Project by the Biden administration, the world could see polar bear population numbers further decrease.

Allison Cannon, Staff Writer

On March 14, President Biden approved the expansion of the Willow Project, a controversial plan that would allow oil drilling in an environmentally sensitive area. Environmentalists and activists have voiced their concerns over the $8 billion project which could yield 600 million barrels of oil from the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The project was originally started back in 2016.

“This concerns me because the drilling that will occur by passing this bill will destroy Alaska’s ecosystem and may even cause Earth to deteriorate faster,” stated sophomore Lola Borgman. 

The National Petroleum Reserve is home to polar bears, musk ox, caribou, and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. When the expansion of this project was approved, it set off angry reactions from environmentalists and climate activists. These complaints echo the project’s possible climate effects with threatened species. 

The animals that live in these undeveloped parts of the Alaskan Arctic are threatened by the expansion because it could lead to massive habitat loss and disturb normal animal patterns/behaviors. According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, loud and constant underwater noise from construction and vessel traffic can cause the animals and their prey to become so stressed they could possibly leave their habitats and/or die, changing an entire ecosystem. 

Sealift barges transporting construction materials can come in contact with a large variety of sea animals including multiple species of endangered whales like the only remaining bowhead whales in the region and the North Pacific right whales, whose population is presumed to be below 500. And one of the biggest causes of concerns is the survival of the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear. Multiple areas of Alaska’s Northern Slope provide critical maternal denning sites for these animals, however, construction in the areas could limit the movement of pregnant females seeking dens or even cause mothers to prematurely leave their dens after giving birth. 

“My problem with this project is that it will do a lot of damage to the already endangered animals, like the polar bears,” said sophomore John Alzamendy.

Another concern over this project is that it will release more carbon dioxide than the 277 million tons it releases now. Some environmental groups and indigenous groups have even gone as far as filing two lawsuits against the project. They asked a judge to issue a preliminary ruling while the court contemplated cases which would have stopped construction. On April 3, they got their answer when a federal judge rejected the injunction to stop progress on the project while the lawsuits proceeded. 

While many have concerns about the Willow Project, most Alaskans are in full support. One wrote to Anchorage Daily News, “Willow is an essential project that will create union jobs, provide social and economic benefits to communities around Alaska, and support America’s energy security. This project fulfills the promise that President Biden ran on and touted since entering office.”

According to Grist, a non-profit media source, residents of Alaska have a monetary gain for the Willow Project through the Permanent Fund Dividend which currently pays all Alaskans $3,284/year for the existing pipeline. The Willow Project would add to this amount.

“The Biden administration’s approval of ConocoPhillips’ Willow project in the western Arctic of Alaska is a disappointing leap backwards,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Defenders of Wildlife’s Alaska Program Director.  “This would further imperil climate-sensitive wildlife including threatened polar bears, lock in oil and gas drilling and massive greenhouse gas emissions for decades, and offset the administration’s priority to rein in climate change.”