Bye-bye ice caps, and hello Willow

Kendall Sullivan, Editorial Board Member

Lately, I’ve been asking myself, “will there ever be a time where we can stop letting old rich white men in power decide our futures?” Apparently not. At least, not anytime soon.

Just last month, President Joe Biden greenlit an oil-drilling project operated by mega-corporation ConocoPhillips, a metaphorical slap in the face to an outcry of opposition.

The project in question is the controversial “Willow Project”, an ambitious petroleum extraction venture aiming to produce 180 thousand barrels of oil per day.

With this project comes 2,600 employment opportunities and the first attempt to separate the United States from overseas oil dependency. With such a potential positive outcome, why should there be resistance? 

The answer is simple: The Willow Project poses an imminent threat to the Earth’s already endangered climate.

The Willow Project racks up a hefty list of environmental consequences, all of which have been analyzed and approved by the Bureau of Land Management. 

In their most recent development plan analysis, the Bureau approved a course of action listed as “Alternative E,” which consisted of a multitude of compromises regarding the drilling site’s construction.

Alternative E lists that a little over 600 acres of undisturbed polar bear habitat will be disturbed by the Willow Project, but this is a conservative number compared to what the other alternatives display.

 Under Alternative E–even with compromises–over 532 acres of wetlands will be destroyed from gravel filling and mining, over 17,000 acres of bird habitat will be uprooted, over 400 miles of habitat destroying pipelines will be constructed, and an infield roadway risks driving caribou herds onto airfields. 

All of these consequences present the very least amount of damage. 

Among these risks, the largest concerns come from habitat loss and the increase in carbon emissions as a result of further projects being spearheaded by fossil fuel companies that will come in the wake of the Willow Project.

As of right now, polar bears are at an extremely high risk of habitat loss and extinction.  They were even the first animal to be added to the endangered species list as a direct result of human-caused climate change. 

The polar bear extinction risk is nothing new, and they are just one of thousands of species that have been driven to the edge of extinction by the human race, but with the Willow Project presenting such devastating and direct impacts on their habitat, it’s certainly cause for concern. 

What’s even more concerning is that further down the line, there won’t be any species left to die off except our own, and polar bears aren’t the only creatures affected by carbon emissions. We are too, and Willow is a ticking “carbon bomb,” a result of the high volume of oil production it aims to produce.

The current estimated release of gross carbon caused by the Willow Project is a nasty 9.6 million metric tons. 

That’s more than half of the Alaskan industrial sector’s total gross emissions from 2020, meaning that the Willow Project alone will double Alaska’s industrial emissions annually, and that’s not even counting how much the project will produce over the course of 30 years (an estimated 280 million metric tons).

After being presented with such information, a logical government response to risking the extinction of yet another species of animal and the ridiculous number of climate devastating outcomes of the project might be to veto such a dangerous plan. 

Unfortunately, despite Joe Biden’s adamant approach on banning new oil ventures, he, along with other politicians, don’t actually care about the climate, they care about saving their own skins.

In the administration’s defense, representatives claimed that not approving the venture would land the government in a multi-million dollar lawsuit, but instead, the approval of the project not only sparked more lawsuits in its opposition, pointing out flaws in the approval process, but has also set a precedent for future oil ventures; that one more won’t hurt.

Of course a single oil drilling project will not bring about armageddon, but a hundred more will, and with the path that powerful politicians have chosen, it’s unlikely that the Willow Project will be the last. The Bureau of Land Management itself even confirmed this in their report. 

What I see as the most devastating part of the Willow Project is not that it’s a step towards further climate change, it’s that it was yet another factor proving that society truly only cares about money, power and themselves. Not even the future they are building for the next generation is of any importance.

Between old politicians and rich CEOs, activists have little say in any important decisions, and teenagers like myself have even less. It’s a hopeless sort of feeling, having to sit back and watch while . 

It’s like watching a horror movie, where you’re kept on the edge of your seat the entire time. You know what’s coming, but there is nothing you can do to stop it. Yet, in some ways, being a part of what comes next is exciting, not scary.

Old rich people will keep tearing apart the world, they will keep lying and they will keep ignoring desperate pleas, nobody can change that. But the good thing about old rich people is that one day they won’t be here anymore. 

They can try all they want to destroy the world we live in, and when they’re gone, we will be here to pick up the pieces to rebuild a better world. A world where polar bears aren’t pushed to the edges of the ice caps to survive while the earth melts around them, and a world where one voice makes a difference.


Power in Cooperation – ConocoPhillips

EplanningUi ( (for access to EIS documents)

State Carbon Dioxide Emissions Data – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

How Biden Got From ‘No More Drilling’ to Backing the Willow Project in Alaska – The New York Times (