Maryam Al Janabi, Reporter

The Biden administration approved a vast oil drilling project in Alaska on March 13th known as Willow. The Willow Project will extract oil on the slope of Alaska’s national petroleum reserve for the next decade. The project is planned to hold up to about 600 million barrels of oil in the area. One barrel of oil is equal to 42 US Liquid Gallons. That oil would take a while to reach the markets since the project is going to be constructed in 2027.

The Willow Project started with Conoco Phillips, a Houston-based energy company, exploring opportunities to drill oil in Alaska. The company has two small operations currently drilling oil in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.

Willow was proposed by Conoco Phillips and initially granted permission in 2020 by the Trump administration.         ConocoPhillips was first approved for constructing five drill pads, which the Biden administration lowered to three. Three drill pads will allow the company to drill most of the oil they pursue. The Biden Administration was left in a precarious position as they didn’t entirely agree with the project but couldn’t reject what the previous administration had signed off on. Scratching the project simply wasn’t an option because they would face legal action from Conoco Phillips.

Approving the Willow Project broke promises Biden made during his presidential campaign in 2020. Biden promised to stop new gas and oil drilling in public waters and on public lands. The drilling paused until 2021, when the Biden administration opened multiple areas for further drilling.

Environmental groups have challenged several new oil and gas drilling areas in court. Alaska Natives living near the petroleum are deeply concerned about the impacts of the Willow project. The United States Government estimates that the project would produce enough oil to give off 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution a year.  For comparison, that is equal to adding 2 million gas-powered cars to the roads. “This is a huge climate threat and inconsistent with this administration’s promises to take on the climate crisis,” Jeremy Lieb, an Alaska-based senior attorney at environmental law group Earthjustice, told CNN. Aside from concerns about the fast-warming Arctic, groups are also concerned the project could destroy the environment for native species, including caribou. Willow supporters, including Alaskan lawmakers, promised the project would make fossil fuel cleaner than getting it from the Middle East or Venezuela. 

The Willow Project prepares to develop on an oil field in Alaska. Drilling up to 100 wells in the area, estimated to contain 400-to-750 million barrels of oil.