Currently — March 7th, 2023

What you need to know, currently.

The Biden administration may greenlight a huge oil drilling project called Willow today.

Willow, is ConocoPhillips’ $6 million proposal to expand oil and gas drilling, building wells, roads, pipelines, and an oil processing facility—all of which would result in climate pollution, threatening the food supply, air quality, and wildlife of Alaska’s Western Arctic.

The Arctic is already warming almost four times faster than the rest of the planet, and this project will make things worse. The Willow Project has the potential to be one of the most polluting oil projects to date. As various climate groups report it could create between 278 and 287 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses—equivalent to the pollution churned out by 66 to 76 coal-fired power plants.

The project will also disproportionately affect Native Alaskan communities, specifically the village of Nuiqsut, whose land has long been treated as a sacrifice zone. Nuiqsut is littered with various oil and gas development projects. Representatives of the village have warned that Willow could also disrupt the migration of caribou, which villagers depend on for food. The inevitable pollution from the drilling will likely also harm residents’ health.

ConocoPhillips was behind a major gas leak in the village in 2022. It took almost a month for it to be plugged. Over the first five days of the leak, 7.2 million cubic feet of natural gas seeped into the atmosphere, which is equal to the annual carbon emissions of 3,000 cars. Nuiqsut residents experienced respiratory issues, nausea, and headaches.

Still, many are in support of the project. Nagruk Harcharek, president of the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, which represents two dozen native communities, corporations and local governments on the North Slope, urged people not to listen to outside opinions and encouraged the Biden administration to move foward with the project.

Others—both in and outside of the Native Alaskan community—are vehemently speaking out against the project. This past week, days before the expected decision on the project, social media posts opposing Willow have gathered millions of views. At one point, #willowproject was the fifth-highest trending hashtag on TikTok. And as of Monday afternoon, almost 3 million people have signed a petition calling to stop the project.

“While the majority of Iñupiat are in support of this project, there are still many Iñupiat and other Arctic Indigenous people that oppose this project and its consequences. With the concerns of the environment, climate, and Indigenous communities, it is vital that the Willow Project is declined,” the petition’s description reads.

Additionally, Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of Nuiqsut—again, the village closest to the site— as well as other community leaders wrote a letter to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland expressing opposition to the project and calling the BLM’s consultation of communities “inadequate.”

—Aarohi Sheth

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