‘Biden just slapped young people in the face’: Activists slam Alaska oil project approval

After years of protests and demonstrations and more than five million public comments against it, the Biden administration ultimately decided to approve ConocoPhillips’ controversial oil drilling site in Alaska known as the Willow project. Young activists are calling the move a slap in the face and incredibly hypocritical given the president’s past climate promises.

ConocoPhillips has been eying its proposed Willow project since announcing its “significant new oil discovery” in 2017. Under the proposal approved by the Biden administration, the oil and gas project would include dozens of wells, hundreds of miles of pipelines, and major infrastructure, from roadways to an airstrip and even its own processing plant.

In addition to increasing emissions through the construction of facilities and development of oil and gas extraction, the site itself is expected to disrupt areas crucial to Indigenous groups who hunt and fish nearby, threatening their very ways of life.

Gen Z for Change, the nonprofit collective that helped spearhead campaigns against Willow, posted a lengthy tweet thread about the news. “It’s 2023 and we are already on the verge of destroying Earth in a way that cannot be fixed. By approving this project, we will see an unprecedented amount of lost jobs and homes, sickness, and community displacement,” the organization noted.

Still, its members were further galvanized to continue fighting for the betterment of the planet.

“Willow is the start of a movement,” Gen Z for Change Executive Director Elise Joshi said in a video. “Biden just slapped young people in the face. This is not the last he’s heard from us. Because I want to be 30 and live in a world that I can recognize.”

Joshi called out Biden for also announcing protections for up to 16 million acres of land and water in Alaska while also allowing ongoing fossil fuel projects to continue and approving what will be the largest new oil project on public lands. Willow’s three drilling pads are expected to generate more than 260 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses over the next 30 years – four years after the U.S. vowed to reach net zero.

Continuing oil and gas production well past when the U.S. wants to eliminate emissions sets the world up for failure, as additional greenhouse gas emissions beyond that point could warm the planet past 1.5 degrees Celsius. That measurement is cited by the United Nations as a key goal. Exceeding it would bring about catastrophic consequences, including more severe natural disasters and displacement in highly vulnerable countries and regions.

The project site sits just 36 miles from the Native Village of Nuiqsut, which has already been overburdened by fossil fuel development. Prior to the Interior Department’s Record of Decision, the Native Village of Nuiqsut and Nuiqsut City leaders issued a letter slamming the Willow project, offering a point-by-point analysis of the Bureau of Land Management’s shortcomings in soliciting indigenous feedback and prioritizing frontline communities.

Among those complaints are the fact that the agency refused to formally log the impact the Willow project will have on the communities’ subsistence, neglecting the harm Willow will bring to tribes’ abilities to hunt and fish. It’s no secret that the oil and gas industry has a track record of harming Indigenous communities, though some Indigenous groups supported Willow’s development.

Those tribes joined a handful of trade unions and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in voicing their support, citing economic opportunities and jobs. Frontline communities, however, rarely benefit from oil and gas projects. And, as Joshi notes, the project itself simply doesn’t make sense for anyone invested in a liveable future.

“We know our ancestral homeland and communities better than anyone,” Harcharek said in a statement. “And we know that resource development and our subsistence way of life are not mutually exclusive. We urge the Biden administration to embrace our perspective and advance a Record of Decision on Willow,” Nagruk Harcharek, president of the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, said in a statement.

Harcharek’s group represents the communities that would be the most severely impacted by the Willow project as well as many other groups on Alaska’s North Slope.

According to EarthJustice, ConocoPhillips has plans for further extraction through Willow and believes it will be able to access 3 billion barrels of oil through the project’s infrastructure. The amount of emissions those barrels would generate is equivalent to the total output of more than 30 decades of annual oil and gas extraction globally.

Between the sheer amount of fossil fuel production and the time it takes for those products to even make it to market, the U.S. would be well beyond its goal of eliminating its emissions by 2050. The math simply doesn’t add up and young voters are uninterested in seeing the Biden administration try and make sense of it. Instead, they’ve vowed to vote out those responsible for giving Willow the green light.

April Siese

April Siese |

Daily News Editor with a passion for breaking news as well as environmental justice.

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