Reaction To Biden Administration Moving Forward On Arctic Drilling Willow Project

In what seems like a course reversal given the past policy direction we’ve seen, the President Joe Biden administration plans to move forward with the Western Arctic Willow drilling project, which has drawn reactions from conservation/environmental groups.

Here’s CNN with some details:

The final environmental report from the Bureau of Land Management recommends a slightly smaller version of what ConocoPhillips originally proposed, putting the number of drilling sites at three instead of five. The Department of Interior is also recommending other measures to try to lower the pollution of the project, and recommending a smaller footprint of gravel roads and pipelines.

In a statement, the Interior Department said it “has substantial concerns about the Willow project and the preferred alternative as presented in the final SEIS, including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence.”

The Biden administration now has 30 days to issue a final decision on the project, after which drilling could begin. In its statement, Interior said it could select a different alternative on the project, including taking no action or further reducing the number of drill sites.

ConocoPhillips and members of the Alaska Congressional delegation have been pushing the administration to finalize the project by the end of February to take advantage of cold and icy conditions needed to drill in the Arctic. If the company misses that window, it could push the project’s start date to next year.

Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan (R), who’s been critical of Biden’s policies, offered a rare (if back-handed) compliment of the President so far.

Reaction from today’s news came from multiple groups, starting with Alaska Environment:

Statement: Biden administration moves Western Arctic Willow project forward

Proposed arctic drilling project on federal lands contradicts Biden’s goals to curb climate change

ANCHORAGE – The U.S. Department of the Interior released on Wednesday a final supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for ConocoPhillips’ proposed Willow project. The area targeted by the planned drilling  includes Teshekpuk Lake, which is the calving ground for the Teshekpuk caribou herd and teems with other wildlife including polar bears and many migratory birds. 

Amid a fragile ecosystem, the Willow project would require building a large amount of industrial infrastructure, including drill sites, bridges, an airstrip, hundreds of miles of roads and a gravel mine. Even before oil drilling begins, the construction and transportation involved in the creation of infrastructure would fragment animal habitats and put wildlife at risk. If the project gets a green light, it is expected to continue for 30 years, which would impede President Joe Biden’s commitment to “achieve a 50-52 percent reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution in 2030.” 

The Interior Department must wait at least 30 days before issuing a final decision on Willow. Environmental advocates plan to continue their calls for a full cancellation of the project.

In response, Environment America Research & Policy Center Public Lands Campaign Director Ellen Montgomery issued the following statement:

“The Willow project presents us with a lose-lose-lose-lose situation: The proposed project is a loss for people, the climate and majestic animals such as caribou and polar bears. This year alone, the Biden administration has made great progress toward protecting nature and the climate. It would be a shame to undo some of that progress by allowing ConocoPhillips to break ground on this truly terrible project. Without projects such as this one, 30 years from now, thanks in part to the Biden administration and the Inflation Reduction Act, we will be much closer to transitioning off fossil fuels entirely. We won’t want to look back and realize that we destroyed an incredible ecosystem and undermined threatened species for no reason. We urge Secretary Haaland to look to the future and use her power to make a final decision about this project that does not involve drilling.””

Alaska Environment Research and Policy Center State Director Dyani Chapman issued the following statement: 

“The Willow project is bad for Alaskans. ConocoPhillips’ activities, which bring gas leaks and harmful development into the region, have already done a lot of damage to local communities. The community of Nuiqsut is already surrounded by planned and active oil wells and people there have seen a rise in respiratory illnesses. They do not need more oil wells and drilling. It’s absurd that as our tundra is melting because of climate change, ConocoPhillips plans to use ‘chillers’ to re-freeze tundra so it can drill for oil that will, in turn, make climate change even worse.”


Alaska Environment is a statewide environmental nonprofit. Our staff work together for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate. Our members put grassroots support behind our research and advocacy. Alaska Environment is part of The Public Interest Network, which runs organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world, a set of core values, and a strategic approach to getting things done. 

Environment America is a national network of 30 state environmental groups. Our staff work together for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate. Our members across the United States put grassroots support behind our research and advocacy. Environment America is part of The Public Interest Network, which runs organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world, a set of core values, and a strategic approach to getting things done. 

Earthjustice also chimed in and called out the Biden administration’s “out of step” decision to progress this controversial project.

ANCHORAGE, AK — The U.S. Department of Interior released a final supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) today, moving one step closer to approving ConocoPhillips’ proposed Willow project, despite environmentalists’ warnings that the climate cannot sustain the greenhouse gas emissions that will be generated from this oil-and-gas drilling operation.

Willow would bring at least 219 wells, 267 miles of pipelines, and 35 miles of roads to a vast public lands area in Alaska’s Western Arctic, permanently altering a globally significant and ecologically rich landscape. Earthjustice and others – including the City and Native Village of Nuiqsut – have raised concerns that the sprawling fossil-fuel project will pollute the air and water, disrupt animal migration patterns, erode habitat, harm subsistence practices, and emit more than 280 million metric tons of climate pollution over the next 30 years. Willow will also open the gates to future oil and gas development for decades to come.

The Biden administration acknowledges that it has substantial concerns about the project, including its greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native people, and its own findings in the SEIS make clear that the Willow project’s estimated greenhouse gas emissions would be incompatible with the President’s climate goals, and the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

The administration has recognized that it can still select the no action alternative in a final decision, and we urge it to do so.

Earthjustice attorney Jeremy Lieb, who has led legal challenges against Willow on behalf of clients, issued the following statement in response:

“This would be the largest single oil drilling project proposed anywhere in the U.S., and it is drastically out of step with the Biden administration’s goals to slash climate pollution and transition to clean energy. Biden will be remembered for what he did to tackle the climate crisis, and as things stand today, it’s not too late for him to step up and pull the plug on this carbon bomb.”