Washington, DC — The morning of Monday, March 13, 2023, the Biden Administration released its final decision approving three drilling sites for the Willow Master Development Plan, otherwise known as the Willow Project that threatens local communities, wildlife, and the global climate. This is a massive oil drilling development on Alaska’s North Slope, which is a stretch of public land known as the National Petroleum Reserve that borders the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
This project developed by ConocoPhillips would be the single largest oil extraction point on US public lands, emitting 278 million metric tons of climate pollution over the next 30 years. That’s equivalent to the annual emissions from 74 coal plants — one-third of all remaining U.S. plants. Willow will disproportionately impact the community of Nuiqsut, a predominantly Iñupiaq village of about 500 people already suffering extreme pollution from existing oil projects.
This decision comes one day after unveiling protections for 16 million acres of land and water in the region. The Department of Interior also announced that it is preparing new rules to provide maximum protection to millions of acres of lands in the western Arctic, including the area around Teshekpuk Lake, a vital home to caribou and other wildlife that are central to Alaska Native communities’ traditional way of life.
However, by green lighting the Willow Project, President Biden has approved the next U.S. climate bomb. This decision is not only a complete betrayal of his commitments to confront the climate crisis but is also an open violation of Indigenous rights. It doesn’t matter what other “Arctic Protections” this administration puts in place, the ecological & spiritual damage wrought by this project cannot be offset nor supplanted. The Willow Project directly threatens 5 Iñupiaq communities on the Arctic Slope, putting their ability to sustain their food security, health, and identity at risk. Our network expresses our solidarity with the Iñupiaq communities fighting to protect their homelands and ecosystems.
Indigenous Environmental Network’s Program Director, Kandi White (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) exclaims, “The Biden administration needs to stop riding the fence and exacerbating the climate crisis. Proposing to announce new rules in protection of the Arctic Ocean while simultaneously approving The Willow Project is counterintuitive. We must reduce extraction and distribution of fossil fuels in real time, invest in real solutions led by Indigenous and local communities, and cease any new fossil fuel development and leasing.”
“The Biden Administration’s approval of the ConocoPhillips Willow project in Alaska completely erases his campaign on confronting longstanding environmental injustices and disproportionate impacts from climate change on environmental justice communities, such as the Alaska Natives. The project is nothing less than a carbon bomb increasing to more than 278 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses that Mother Earth does not need. The project would devastate the ecosystem, affect migration patterns for animals the Iñupiaq depend on with additional serious concerns of health impacts for Indigenous communities themselves.” says Tom BK Goldtooth, Executive Director, Indigenous Environmental Network.
Legal challenges to this decision are expected. Support the fight by using this toolkit created by the People vs Fossil Fuels coalition.