Myth vs. Fact
Debunking the Myths About ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project
MYTH: Willow would help address current inflation and high energy costs.
FACT: The United States is already the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, despite the oil and gas industry’s vigorous and incorrect public relations campaigns aimed at convincing people that their opportunism to drill more is a legitimate policy solution
Even if the Willow project was approved, it would do nothing to address inflation or high energy costs. It would take years before Willow produced a single drop of oil, and the project would merely lock us into decades of fossil fuel development at a time when we need to be rapidly transitioning to clean energy sources.
- Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for The Global Energy Sector
- 5 Reasons Why the United States Can’t Drill Its Way to Energy Independence
MYTH: Approving Willow would demonstrate the Biden administration’s commitment to environmental justice.
FACT: The Willow Project proposed in America’s Western Arctic is one element of a massive climate bomb. Oil and gas activities in the Arctic are reducing access to traditional foods and polluting the resident’s water, land, and air with toxic chemicals. According to EPA, Willow could have “significant environmental justice and climate impacts” and threatens the food security of the Native Alaskan village of Nuiqsut, a community already surrounded by oil and gas development.
ConocoPhillips and BLM have repeatedly rushed the review and approval process for the drilling project, often at the expense of input from the nearby Village of Nuiqsut.
Yet, environmental justice requires that everyone enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process. The Willow project fails on both accounts. To put it simply, no single project has more potential to set back the Biden administration’s climate and public lands protection goals than the ConocoPhillips Willow project.
- Surrounded by Oil Fields, Alaska Village Fears for Its Health
- ConocoPhilips’ Plan for Extracting Presents Defining Moment for Biden
MYTH: ConocoPhillips has a record of safe and responsible development on the North Slope
FACT: ConocoPhilips is the subject of past and ongoing oversight and investigation by federal and state governments, including the U.S. Congress and the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, over operations concerns affecting nearby communities.
In March 2022, a gas leak at ConocoPhillips’ Alpine Oil Field prompted 300 ConocoPhillips employees and some residents in the nearby Village of Nuiqsut to evacuate. Residents were prevented from asking any questions at meetings related to the emergency and have ongoing, serious concerns about emergency preparedness and response.
ConocoPhillips’ incident report blames the leak on a shallow gas zone that was previously undetected and indicates that thawing permafrost played a role in the severity of the leak.
- Washington Post: Gas leak at ConocoPhillips Alaskan drilling site forces some to leave
- Alaska Journal of Commerce: After more than a week, gas is still leaking from Alpine field, ConocoPhillips says
MYTH: Willow will be a significant economic driver for communities in and around the Western Arctic, creating thousands of high-paying construction jobs.
FACT: Promises of high-paying, local jobs made by supporters of the Willow project are overstated. Only 1% of employed North Slope residents work in the oil and gas industry, and the majority of Willow jobs would be filled by non-residents.
In fact, over one-third of oil and gas jobs in Alaska are filled by non-state residents, and the industry provides only 3% of all jobs in the state.
MYTH: Willow is designed to protect the Iñupiat way of life, including subsistence.
FACT: ConocoPhillips’ most recent oil developments, GMT 1 and 2, are already affecting the Teshekpuk Lake caribou migration, and the Willow oil project will substantially worsen these impacts. Despite concerns from nearby Indigenous communities, the proposed Willow project would place oil infrastructure and industrial activity in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, home to vibrant wildlife and a critical migratory pathway for caribou, a key subsistence resource for surrounding communities.
Communities in the Western Arctic have been vocal about the impacts Willow would have on their traditional ways of life, expressing tremendous concern “regarding Willow’s potential impacts on subsistence – and with it, the very fabric and culture” of surrounding Alaska Native communities (Kuukpik comment letter).
The Willow oil project would bring significant infrastructure to the Arctic region, which is suffering severe stress as it warms three times faster than the rest of the world. What’s more, because the permafrost is rapidly thawing due to the accelerating impact of climate change, ConocoPhillips has admitted that it plans to artificially chill the melting tundra to even sustain this expansive infrastructure.
MYTH: BLM does not have the authority to select the no-action alternative.
FACT: ConocoPhillips’ leases and development proposals are subject to the government’s obligation to protect the environment. The law provides the administration with the power to deny a specific application altogether if its impacts cannot be sufficiently mitigated.
- Meeting the Moment: How President Biden Can Align the Federal Fossil Fuel Program to Deliver on Climate and Put People Over Profits
- BLM: Earthjustice Comments on Willow Master Development Plan Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement – BLM’s Decision‐Making Authority
MYTH: Willow’s oil project design and applicable mitigation measures comprehensively address reasonably foreseeable and significantly adverse impacts on NPR-A’s surface resources.
FACT: ConocoPhillips has admitted that it plans to artificially chill the melting tundra to even sustain this expansive infrastructure. The Willow project would bring significant infrastructure to a remote region, which is suffering severe stress as it warms three times faster than the rest of the world. the permafrost in the area is rapidly thawing due to the accelerating impact of climate change.
MYTH: The SEIS appropriately acknowledges and assesses future development and associated impacts.
FACT: The analysis for the project covers only a sliver of ConocoPhillips’ plans for the area.
According to the DSEIS, developing and burning oil from the Willow project would produce up to 287 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years at a time when the United States urgently needs to move away from fossil fuels. That’s equal to the annual emissions of 76 coal power plants—a third of all coal plants in the United States. If approved, emissions from the Willow project would eclipse those avoided through achieving the Biden administration’s renewable energy goals on public lands and waters by 2030.
Yet, ConocoPhillips has made clear that Willow is just the first step in a longer-term plan to develop an ‘infrastructure hub’ in the western Arctic stretching far beyond the currently proposed development. ConocoPhillips executives told investors that the company had already identified three billion barrels of oil in nearby prospects and that Willow’s design was intended for expansion.
- Center For American Progress: 4 Reasons the Willow Oil Project Is Unfit for Approval
- Inside Climate News: ConocoPhillips’ Plan for Extracting Half-a-Billion Barrels of Crude in Alaska’s Fragile Arctic Presents a Defining Moment for Joe Biden