Willow Project presents positives
TUE.| 4-11-23 | OPINION
The Willow Project is a controversial plan which was created in 2020 by Alaska’s largest crude oil producer, ConocoPhillips, to drill for oil and gas in the Alaskan National Petroleum Reserve, which is the largest undisturbed piece of land in the United States. While this plan was approved by President Trump, a federal judge in Alaska overturned this decision because it could lead to severe environmental damage. Recently, the Willow Project was reintroduced with a few changes by the Biden Administration, sparking immense controversy from environmental activists all across America. While oil drilling is harmful to the environment, it can also be a very economically beneficial process. With the improvements that Biden is suggesting, I believe that the fiscal impact of the Willow Project could outweigh its potential environmental damage.
The Willow Project originally suggested building five drill sites, dozens of miles of roads, seven bridges and several
Graphic by Jack Albritton
pipelines. I think this rendition of the plan is far too drastic, as it would lead to horrible greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to ruining the habitat of many Alaskan animals. Because of this, an anti-Willow Project petition on Change.org was able to get over two million signatures, earning the attention of President Biden.
In response, The Biden administration recently proposed a more moderate alternative to the original plan: only three drill sites with less surrounding infrastructure, while trying to avoid building in locations that will majorly impact habitats for Alaskan wildlife. While many protesters are still against this plan, I think that this is a healthy alternative to the original concept for the Willow project. Decreasing the number of oil drills and additional construction greatly reduces the carbon emissions and impact on Alaska’s native wildlife. While this plan will still hurt the environment, I think that its economic benefits for Alaska and our national government will certainly be worth the damage it might cause.
To put things into perspective, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is the emergency oil supply for the United States, currently holds 714 million barrels of oil. With just three drills in the Alaskan National Petroleum Reserve, we can generate roughly 600 million additional barrels. Alaska is a state that relies heavily on its oil and natural gas industry, which has been declining for years now. With the help of these drills, Alaska will be able to improve its economy tremendously. ConocoPhillips predicts that the Willow Project will generate 17 billion dollars in revenue for both the federal and Alaskan governments, in addition to providing roughly 2,500 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs. This plan would be for pulling Alaska out of their oil recession.
Despite this, many protesters believe the economic benefits are not worth the amount of habitat damage this project will cause. While there is no doubt that the Willow Project can hurt the Alaskan ecosystems, it is important to note that the state of Alaska is around 54 percent wilderness, so this single oil drilling site will not make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
On climate-related issues like this, I typically find myself siding with what is best for the environment, but in this situation, I really do think that the Willow Project is a good thing. If Biden follows through with his suggestions to scale back this operation properly, it could have unfathomable benefits for the U.S. and Alaskan economies, without hurting the environment as much as the original plan.