"Oil and gas development should not happen at the expense of our health and our survival. Our communities are not sacrifice zones." - Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak

Willow Threatens Important Subsistence Resources

Oil and gas leasing, exploration, and extraction have and will continue to impact the quality, health, and availability of traditional subsistence resources for western Arctic communities, including foods such as caribou, fish, and birds. If permitted, ConocoPhillips’ massive Willow oil project would pollute and destroy air, water, and lands, with long-term and damaging outcomes to food security, traditional activities, sociocultural systems, and public health in Arctic communities.

The Willow project poses an immediate threat to local food sources, including caribou herds that directly feed several Arctic Alaska communities. The Teshekpuk Caribou Herd, an important food source, remains in the Arctic year-round. Constant exposure to oil industry disruption and habitat degradation is already deflecting and delaying caribou movement, seriously threatening food security for Indigenous communities that are already facing a decline in caribou populations and forced to travel farther to hunt.

The administration should heed local traditional Indigenous knowledge and observations about the impacts of the climate crisis on their food, including increasingly warmer summer temperatures, increased storm surges, the impacts of rain on snow events and associated caribou mortality, increased seasonal mass mortality events of birds and fish, and the negative impacts of thawing permafrost like tundra degradation that destroys important habitat for these foods.

A Deeply Flawed Process

“You asked us for our subsistence timeline, we share them with you, and then you ram the Environmental Impact Statement down our throats in the heart of this time.” – Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak

The process under which the Willow project has been considered by both the Trump and Biden administrations has been deeply flawed and is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of impacted communities and the requirements under the law.

The project’s approval was rushed through in the final days of the Trump administration, a move that was subsequently invalidated by a federal judge in August of 2021 after the judge concluded that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Things have scarcely improved under the Biden administration. Late on a Friday night in early July of 2022, BLM released a draft supplemental EIS and provided for a mere 45-day comment period, the shortest period required by law. 

The Nuiqsut City and Tribal governments request an extension of the comment period due to its overlap with critical subsistence hunting and harvesting activities. In early August 2022, BLM committed to extending the comment period to accommodate these serious concerns but then subsequently reversed course three days later, denying all requests to extend the comment period. 

The comment period closed on August 29, 2022. Further action from BLM is possible at any time.

You can find a more complete timeline of the process here, and a more detailed summary of substantive problems with the process can be found here.