By Priscilla Feral
Our attention is turned this week to Alaska and the Biden Administration’s wrong-headed decision to approve a massive fossil-fuel extraction project in Alaska’s environmentally vulnerable Western Arctic.
Polar bears, caribou, seals, migratory birds and other Artic wildlife are at risk. The Willow project puts a bull’s eye on the largest, roadless undeveloped area in the United States. If this project isn’t halted in court, or by a reversal by the administration, this pristine landscape will have hundreds of miles of roads, pipeline and puncture with some 200 new oil wells.
We expected such a short-sighted approach from the previous administration but not from President Biden, especially after his pledge in 2020: “No more drilling on federal lands, period.”
We agree with the view expressed by Senator Edward Markey on behalf of a score or more of his colleagues: “The approval of a massive oil development project on federal lands is a mistake we will regret for generations. The Willow project’s devastating consequences will be suffered by all of us. We must move forward not backward.”
To register your outrage at this colossal abandonment of the President’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50-52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and to protect fragile federal lands from ruinous oil drilling, please join us in emailing the White House via this form.
To be clear, according to the decision document, the Willow project would produce 576 million barrels of oil, spurring 239 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. On an annual basis, that would translate into 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution, equal to adding nearly two million cars to the roads each year.
Incredibly, this extraction may also involve “refreezing the rapidly thawing Arctic permafrost to stabilize drilling equipment,” reports The Guardian.
We know the impacts of climate change are disastrous to humans and wildlife. Approval of the Willow oil-drilling project puts the desires of the oil and gas industry above everyone’s right to a healthy environment. This undermines the transition to clean energy that needs to happen now and directly contradicts the Administration’s climate change goals.
We urge the Biden Administration to reconsider giving the green light to ConocoPhillips. It’s not enough to say that the Interior Dept. will issue new rules to block oil and gas leases on some of the acres that form the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Or to hear that ConocoPhillips is willing to forego developing some of its oil and gas leases on land that everyone already recognizes as vital to ensuring the future of the indigenous people nearest the area and the wildlife living upon it.
Truth is, the project will bring monies to oil corporations and some Alaska residents who don’t live near the site, but there are profound and unjustifiable costs to the climate, biodiversity and Arctic wildlife.
As someone who participated in an aerial survey of this unique and very fragile landscape two decades ago, I said then and believe more strongly now that the West Arctic must not become another industrial park for producing more oil that we don’t need.
We ask the President to fight for the environment, for Alaska’s wildlife, and to stand by the Administration’s 2030 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction target. No version of the Willow project is consistent with the commitments made to the American people to combat the climate crisis and promote environmental justice.