FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Biden Administration Prepares to Approve Major Oil Drilling Operation on Alaska’s Northern Slope
People vs. Fossil Fuels, a national coalition of over 1,200 frontline, climate justice, and progressive organizations, strongly condemned the Biden administration for moving closer to approving the Willow Oil Drilling Project, a major oil drilling operation proposed on Alaska’s North Slope that has been condemned by climate activists and Indigenous communities alike.
The move would directly contradict recent administration moves to protect wilderness areas in Alaska from resource extraction and the Biden administration’s own stated climate goals, such as stopping Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay for environmental protection.
Over its lifetime, the ConocoPhillips’ oil drilling plan would add over 250 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere over the next thirty years, equivalent to the annual emissions from one-third of all remaining U.S. coal plants, or seventy-six new plants.
In response, People vs. Fossil Fuels released the following statement:
“Global scientists have been absolutely clear: To avoid irreversible climate devastation and immediate harm to frontline communities, we must end all new investment in fossil fuel projects. Any approval for a new fossil fuel project at this stage in the climate emergency – especially one at the scale of the Willow project – is locking us into an assured climate catastrophe.
In addition to accelerating irreversible climate change for the Arctic and the rest of the world, this project would also disproportionately affect the community of Nuiqsut, a predominantly Iñupiat village of about 500 people who are already living through extreme pollution from existing oil projects and have already expressed their opposition to Willow.
Our communities have also been clear since the first day of Biden’s presidency: living up to his climate and environmental justice promises means using his presidential powers to reject all new fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency. We will not stand for more planet-killing fossil fuel project approvals. If Biden wants to retain the support of the people and his mandate to govern, he must take immediate steps to reject the Willow project and end the era of fossil fuels once and for all.”
ConocoPhillips’ Willow project is seeking to drill in five locations in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The final environmental impact statement (EIS) released by Biden’s Department of Interior today states that its ‘preferred’ option is to allow three drilling locations – with a fourth deferred – which essentially signals it would approve such a plan. A final permitting decision will be issued in the next 30 days.
In addition to the further climate devastation this project would unleash, it would also pose serious harm to the Native Village of Nuiqsut on the North Slope. In 2021, the project was denied by an Alaskan court for failing to adequately take into account the impact it would have on the surrounding environment. No amount of “precautions” taken will make oil extraction safe for the local ecosystem and global climate.
In March of 2022, ConocoPhillips failed to adequately inform and protect the Village of Nuiqsut after the CD1 Alpine drill pad had a gas leak and evacuated their employees. Local community members recall instances of lightheadedness and illness during the time. However, ConocoPhillips continued to claim that there was nothing to worry about while natural gas continued to leak into the air for days. In 2012, a Repsol drilling operation resulted in a “blow-out” that spewed over 40,000 gallons of drilling mud into the surrounding area and resulted in reports of respiratory ailments in locals. If any alternative besides the No Action Alternative were to be approved, the Village of Nuiqsut would be completely encircled by development and the probability of another hazardous accident like CD1 and Repsol occurring increases.
In the days leading up to the release of the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, the Native Village of Nuiqsut released a letter to the Bureau of Land Management expressing their many concerns involving this project:
We express our concerns, but BLM continues to weaken our waive mitigation measures, or fails to enforce them, and the impact to our daily life continues. We explain how the road will deflect caribou and make hunting more difficult, and BLM hears us asking for more road access. We say the helicopters disturb the caribou, and BLM again hears us asking for more roads. We explain our distress about our air quality from routine activities, and we are confronted with accidents like Repsol and CD1. We point out that it is becoming harder for us to harvest subsistence food, and BLM responds with more research and monitoring (but continued activity). We speak of the significance of our tradition and culture, and BLM schedules meetings during whaling. We emphasize the importance of our life, health, and safety, and we watch as ConocoPhillips employees are evacuated from CD1. We express concerns about our lack of access to information about the CD1 accident and our fundamental responsibility to protect the people of our village, and we are accused of causing panic and alarm during the blowout. People state opposition to the endless expansion of oil development and the complete encirclement of our village, and they face repercussions. It is therefore with deep and persevering commitment to protecting our culture, health, and survival that we offer the following comments:
- The public and cooperating agency process has been deeply flawed.
- BLM must adequately address the impacts of uncontrolled gas released.
- BLM must consider an alternative that protects our subsistence and traditional way of life.
- BLM must conduct more comprehensive analysis of impacts to our health and include meaningful measures to protect the health of Nuiqsut residents.
Click here to read the statement from Sovereign Inupiat for a Living Arctic.