A potential climate disaster proposed for Alaska’s western Arctic must be – and can be – stopped.

About 20 protesters stand outside an Anchorage, Alaska, hotel in 2004, during a speech by then-Interior Secretary Gail Norton. Norton was on a five-day trip through Alaska to discuss President George W. Bush’s energy plan, including the administration’s support for drilling for oil and gas in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Burning the oil that ConocoPhillips’ Willow project would extract from the Reserve would yield over 284 million metric tons of climate emissions. Al Grillo/Associated Press, File

The ConocoPhillips project, known as Willow, is the largest imminent oil extraction project currently proposed on U.S. federal lands. Burning the 629 million barrels of oil estimated to be produced from this 30-year project would release more than 284 million metric tons of climate emissions, equivalent to pollution from a third of all U.S. coal production annually, or the annual emissions from 62 million passenger cars.

If developed by ConocoPhillips, the Willow project will include up to five drill pads with up to 50 wells on each pad, an extensive road system that includes nearly 1,000 miles of water-intensive ice roads, one or two airstrips, hundreds of miles of pipelines and a huge new gravel mine.

It would be located in Alaska’s Western Arctic Reserve, a 23-million-acre area officially known as the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (or simply, the Reserve). The Reserve is America’s largest single public land unit and, despite its name, nowhere else in the United States is there the opportunity to protect threatened habitats and resources at such a landscape level.

The Reserve provides critical habitat for Arctic wildlife including three caribou herds, migratory birds from across the globe, and a full complement of Arctic apex predators including grizzly bears, polar bears and wolves, alongside animals like geese, loons, salmon, falcons, Arctic foxes, walrus and more and is home to 13 communities, including Native Alaskans who depend on subsistence resources. Willow will jeopardize the ecosystem’s health puts all its inhabitants at risk and threatens the long term health of our planet.

Pivoting from fossil fuel production on federal public lands – which accounts for one-quarter of U.S. climate emissions – is a crucial piece of the climate solution. Much more must be done to curb America’s climate emissions to at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, which scientists agree is needed to avoid some of the worst impacts. In order for the Biden administration to achieve its “30×30” goal of conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, the protection of this area is critical. No other piece of land can do more to advance this mission.


Likewise, no immediate project has greater potential to set back the Biden administration’s 30×30 goals than Willow.

It’s urgent for us all to raise the alarm now. Contact President Biden and members of Congress and urge them to keep their commitments to climate, environmental and social justice by denying permission for the massive Willow oil development project in the Western Arctic.

Tell them no single oil and gas project poses a greater threat to U.S. climate and public lands protection goals and that, by allowing ConocoPhillips to proceed in the Western Arctic, we have the potential to undo the clean energy progress we’ve already made and make the goals we hope to reach by 2030 unattainable.

Indicate that it is of vital importance that the Bureau of Land Management undertake a new, more careful and comprehensive review of this project. Such a review will show that this project cannot move forward under the administration’s strong commitments to science; addressing the climate crisis; and protecting public lands and subsistence rights.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.