Willow Project woes

In preparation for construction of drilling sites and pipelines, ships scout the Alaskan oil reserve.

Photo courtesy of Manuel_Ernst under Creative Commons License

In preparation for construction of drilling sites and pipelines, ships scout the Alaskan oil reserve.

The recent approval of the Willow Project is opening new pastures for the American oil industry, but closing more for the environment. 

“The Willow Project is a drilling lease that was given to the company ConocoPhillips under President Trump. There have been multiple attempts to stop it,” said environmental science teacher Desiree Di Mauro. “From what I can tell, the Biden administration found it impossible to stop because it was already set in motion, so they tried to rein it back. They limited the size of the Willow Project, but it seems Biden didn’t see a way out.” Di Mauro has a PhD in Environment Science and has been teaching the course for five years. 

Under former President Donald Trump, the Willow Project was allowed five sites; the Biden administration has lowered it to three, returning 68,000 acres of land to disuse. These 68,000 acres are only a small part of a 2.3 million acre National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska in which the Willow Project resides. The Department of the Interior also cited in its decision that this reduction will safeguard caribou migration routes as well as the area’s freshwater.

With its approval, the drilling sites are set for construction, bringing in millions of barrels of oil. Where oil goes, carbon emissions are sure to follow.

“Well, any amount of new carbon emissions is not good. Studies show that everything points to the world being unable to stop the global temperature from rising 1.5 °C. This is what we call a tipping point. This natural world has a way of healing right, and when we go past a tipping point, nature can no longer return to its previous state,” said Di Mauro.

The Paris Agreement, signed in 2016, was meant to unify the world against climate change with a common goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels within the century. The Willow Project will not help achieve this goal, but its ramifications will not be realized in full for at least three decades.

“It’s also important to remember that this operation won’t be done overnight, it will take years,“ stated Di Mauro.

The proponents of the operation cite a need for increased domestic oil production.

“Well it’s a great source of domestic oil, but it’s only a fraction. Some people say that it will help the U.S., but the U.S. is a net exporter of oil in the global market,” explained Di Mauro.  “That means that we export more than we import, so saying it’s purely for domestic sale isn’t really true.”

Not to mention that with the country’s ambitious goals for renewable energy, the Willow Project may not fit with the United States’ vision of its energy needs. Furthermore, the residents of Arctic Alaska are divided on the project’s approval.

“Some of the local tribes are for the Willow Project for the money and jobs, but some don’t want it because it affects where they live. Their land is some of the first to be affected by global warming, so they want to stop the Willow Project,” relayed Di Mauro.

The Biden administration has conversely disallowed any further gas and oil developments in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. For the foreseeable future, this land will remain untouched. This is a promising step for the country, but there is always more to do in a world ever-striving for a more sustainable future. 

“There are some areas where we see a lot of progress, and some other countries are very forward thinking,” added Di Mauro. “The United Arab Emirates, ironically, wants to transition from oil to renewable energy in the coming century. At some point people see the writing on the wall.”

It is easy to get rapt in environmental affairs involving the great forces far beyond the scope of one’s normal life, but a great deal can be done in Springfield that will bring tangible improvements to daily life. In Fairfax County alone, strides have been made to preserve our environment, like the plastic bag tax.

Despite the emissions of the Willow Project, it’s only a small piece of the puzzle when regarding climate change.