The Willow Project: What it is and what Belmont students can do
Updated: Mar 14
The Biden Administration formally approved the Willow Project on Monday morning.
The Willow Project is a proposed oil drilling plan in Northern Alaska. It is expected to hold, at the most, 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years.
To put it into perspective, the entire state of New Mexico has the second highest amount of oil wells in the U.S. and, in 2021, “produced 459.8 million barrels,” according to Statista.
Those who support the project are optimistic about the amount of temporary and permanent jobs it creates – nearly 3,000 new jobs during construction and 300 permanent jobs.
“Part of the reason this got approved is because the local constituents in Alaska wanted it to be approved,” said Belmont University environmental science professor Matthew Heard. “Lisa Murkowski and Mary Peltola, who is the Democratic House of Representatives there, pushed this as a bipartisan agreement to help Alaskans because it was pro jobs.”
The drilling project also allows for the United States to be less dependent on foreign oil, another major motivator in its approval.
But this decision is facing backlash, especially from environmentalists, due to its direct impact on the climate.
The decision goes against blatant campaign promises made by President Biden.
The project is in the country’s “largest single expanse of pristine land,” which is located north of the Arctic Circle.
The U.S. Interior Department and the land management agency advised against approval.
The project will include, “direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence,” according to Time.
The Native village of Nuiqsut and other Alaskan natives are expressing their opposition.
“Villages get some financial benefits from oil and gas activity but experience far fewer impacts that Nuiqsut,” said a letter from Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruk and other tribal and city officials. “We are at ground zero for the industrialization of the Arctic.”
On TikTok, “#StopWillow” has been trending in hopes to gain support for its opposition from a younger generation.
The hashtag has gotten “over 88 million U.S. views” according to NPR.
A change.org petition, “SAY NO TO THE WILLOW PROJECT,” has over 3.1. million signatures, heavily influenced by the TikTok campaign.
At Belmont, Heard said he encourages students to get involved.
“Local governments matter. Learning who your representatives are and contacting them, telling them how you feel as a constituent is actually very, very important,” he said. “For Belmont students, realizing that we're part of a national and a global ecosystem, it's really important.”
Even though this takes place thousands of miles away from Nashville, the Willow Project is incredibly relevant.
“We're all connected through the climate and the impacts of burning fossil fuels or producing fossil fuels, so getting them from Alaska, obviously, doesn't stay in Alaska,” Heard said.
With all the coverage happening both on and off social media, it can be easy to feel helpless. The rhetoric around climate change is often that this is the end and the approval of the Willow Project is detrimental to climate change.
But that rhetoric is not on accident.
“There are these forms of what we call climate denialism. One of the sort of ones is to say, ‘It's too late for action to happen,’ and that prevents people from doing anything else,” Heard said. “So, I think not being not feeling burnout, and trying to regroup and find the things that you can make a difference in really helps.”
Belmont students who feel passionately about stopping the Willow Project, even after its approval, can sign petitions, call representatives and make their voice heard.
“It can feel really slow, but don't let this hold you back. Keep pushing for the change. It's a lifetime journey, unfortunately, but it's really important that people who care about this don't feel defeated,” Heard said.
For links to the change.org petitions, click here. For a list of Tennessee representatives, click here. For a good example of what to say to a representative, click here.
This article was written by Gracie Anderson