What is the Willow Project and why should you care?


Chase King

What is the Willow Project?

The Willow Project has become the biggest talking point for most environmental advocates and has taken over social media apps, showing up continuously on Tiktok, Instagram, and Twitter. The Willow Project is a huge oil mining project in Northern Alaska led by the ConocoPhillips company.  The ConocoPhillips company has many different drilling sites stationed in Alaska but this project will be the biggest; in fact, it is the largest oil drilling project on American land. They are going to set up three drilling sites which are expected to pump out about 160,000 barrels of oil every day for the next 30 years (EuroNews). Now in comparison, the USA uses about 20.28 million barrels of oil a day, so while it may be a lot of oil it does not compare to the amount of oil needed to fulfill the USA’s needs. (eia.gov). 

Oil pipeline in Northern Alaska (American Progress)

What are the Environmental Concerns?

One of the first things you think of when you hear about a large oil drilling project is the environmental concerns that come with it. I talked with an AP Environmental Science teacher, Mrs. McCook, about some potential concerns with the project. She told me that there will be extra harmful effects because it takes place in “a super sensitive ecosystem.” This project could cause large amounts of melting, which will result in habitat loss. Just like any other oil drilling project, this project will release tons of greenhouse gasses; to be exact it will “add about 260 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the next 30 years, the equivalent of an extra two million cars on the road each year for 30 years.” (defenders.org). Those amounts of carbon emissions could do irreversible damage to the arctic environment that surrounds it. Another question that needs to be asked is the sustainability of these projects: Can we just keep drilling for oil? Mrs. McCook says no, “They are going to run out of oil […] no oil drilling projects are sustainable.” She urges the importance of energy conservation and the importance of the transition to renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

Protests in Washington DC (New Yorker)

Why did the Government allow this?

So if it is so bad for the environment then why does the government allow it? Well, the Biden Administration allowed this project because they couldn’t really put a stop to it. ConocoPhillips holds the lease and has the right to drill there from when they bought the land in 1999 and when they got it approved by Trump in 2020, and “canceling its leases would bring a court case that, if lost, would set a precedent, cost the government millions of dollars in fees, and do nothing to stop oil drilling.” (TheConversation). But even if they could put an end to the project there is serious doubt. Although the Biden Administration couldn’t stop ConocoPhillips from drilling, they did bargain with them and lowered the number of drill sites from five to three. As well as this there are some potential positives from this project, Mrs. McCook said, “It’s a big goal to start getting our oil domestically”. The USA doesn’t want to get its oil from Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela. Mrs. McCook believes that it is really important that for the time being, we can get cheap domestic oil, while we are transitioning to renewable energy sources that are better for the environment.  

Protesters gather outside of the White House (CNN)

How has the Public Reacted?

The Willow Project has become a huge topic on the news and social media, and not so surprisingly the youth have become big advocates, and have spread anti-willow rhetoric all over social media. Mrs. McCook, who was personally brought to the attention of this subject through one of her kids, told me, “The kids are talking about it more than the adults.” She claims that she has hardly seen anything about it on her social media or news, but other teens and I see it all the time on Tiktok and Instagram. There have also been many forms of protests against the project including a petition to stop the project which got over 5 million signatures (bit.ly/3Mnqf2r if you want to sign). There have been environmentalist protests in front of the White House and all around Washington DC multiple times during the past couple of weeks, and there have even been walkouts from different schools across the country. It has been shown by the passion of environment advocates how big of an issue this is to them, and how mad they are that it is getting approved. 

The Willow Project has brought some important environmental concerns to the forefront of political discussions, and it has become apparent that something needs to be done. We can’t keep dumping carbon emissions into the environment if we want to keep the planet clean. 


Puko, T. (2023, March 25). What is Willow? how an Alaska oil project could affect the environment. The Washington Post. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/03/17/willow-project-alaska-oil-drilling-explained/ 

“Biden’s Approval of Willow Project Shows Inconsistency of Us’s First ‘Climate President’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/14/biden-president-approved-alaska-willow-project. 

“Willow Project: Could Two Lawsuits Block the Oil Project in Alaska?” Euronews, 21 Mar. 2023, https://www.euronews.com/green/2023/03/14/biden-administration-approves-alaskas-willow-oil-project-sparking-anger-from-environmental

 Montgomery, Scott L. “3 Reasons the Willow Arctic Oil Drilling Project Was Approved – It’s the Latest Battle in a Long Fight over Alaska’s North Slope.” The Conversation, 17 Mar. 2023, https://theconversation.com/3-reasons-the-willow-arctic-oil-drilling-project-was-approved-its-the-latest-battle-in-a-long-fight-over-alaskas-north-slope-201935

Rowland-Shea, Jenny. “4 Reasons the Willow Oil Project Is Unfit for Approval.” Center for American Progress, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/4-reasons-the-willow-oil-project-is-unfit-for-approval/. 

Nilsen, Ella. “Biden Administration Approves Controversial Willow Oil Project in Alaska, Which Has Galvanized Online Activism | CNN Politics.” CNN, Cable News Network, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/13/politics/willow-project-alaska-oil-biden-approval-climate/index.html. 

Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Why Did the Biden Administration Approve the Willow Project?” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 13 Mar. 2023, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/why-did-the-biden-administration-approve-the-willow-project. 

“Conservation Groups Sue to Stop the Willow Oil Project in Alaska’s Western Arctic.” Defenders of Wildlife, 15 Mar. 2023, https://defenders.org/newsroom/conservation-groups-sue-stop-willow-oil-project-alaskas-western-arctic.