The bad news can be made good and the good news better. Stop Willow and protect the Arctic Refuge.
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The bad news can be made good and the good news better. Stop Willow and protect the Arctic Refuge.

The ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil and gas proposal is on the move–and so is the Arctic Refuge Protection Act. Right now, bad news can be made good and the good news better. Let’s talk about how.

The time to speak is now

On Feb. 1, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management released its final supplemental environmental impact statement on the Willow oil and gas drilling proposal, highlighting one proposed plan as the preferred alternative. This plan would spew out huge amounts of carbon and do harm to the air, water, and lives of local people.

Caribou in the western Arctic. Courtesy Protect The Arctic.

The 2023 supplemental EIS looks similar  as the EIS produced by the Trump administration, which we took to court and won.

Willow would destroy and pollute land and water essential to the health of local communities and animals. It would accelerate climate change, endanger public health, harm wildlife, and threaten food sources for local people.

Leaders in Nuiqsut, already surrounded by oil and gas rigs and the village that would most directly and immediately be impacted by Willow, submitted a letter outlining the many ways the project would threaten community health, food access, and ways of life and how the Bureau dismisses, disregards or ignores its concerns.

The agency can make its permitting decision on Willow as early as March 6. It’s important to speak up now for Arctic communities and climate action by telling the Biden administration to say no to Willow.

It makes zero sense to promote new oil and gas drilling on federal lands

If ConocoPhillips executives have their way, the Willow project would become a hub for the company’s ambitious oil and gas extraction plans and lock in destructive, carbon-polluting drilling.

Company executives have touted the 3 billion barrels of oil it intends to extract as it expands. Willow alone would churn out astronomical amounts of carbon, even as we’re at the precipice of a climate catastrophe.

Courtesy of Protect The Arctic.

Carbon emissions from the project, even without further expansion, would cause nearly $20 billion in climate-related damages while only bringing in $3.9 to $7 billion of federal revenue from things like taxes and royalties. Meanwhile, last year alone, ConocoPhillips made $1.4 billion from its Alaska operations—more than local and state governments will gain from taxes over 30 years of drilling at Willow.

When folks say, “follow the money,” this is what they mean: The Willow oil and gas proposal would put the profit interests of one oil company over the health of Arctic lands, waters, animals, and communities directly and negatively impacted by industrial pollution, destruction, and industry-driven climate crisis.

The Arctic is already warming at four times the rate of the rest of the world.

As if from a piece of satire, ConocoPhillips itself would have to bear the climate expense of installing artificial “chillers” to re-freeze melting permafrost in order to build the infrastructure for Willow.

What is the limit to the cost that the oil and gas industry expects local people to pay with their health, lives, and ways of life for corporate profits?

Demand that this administration stop Willow.

Protecting caribou is protecting people

Just as a new drilling project in the western Arctic would benefit corporate interests while driving the climate crisis on the backs of local people and the planet, so too would drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Gwich’in know themselves as caribou people and consider the birthing and nursing grounds of the Porcupine caribou sacred. They call this area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” or “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

You may recall that the 2017 Tax Act included a provision opening the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling. It also mandated two lease sales on these lands.

The first lease sale happened on Jan. 6, 2021, on a fateful day where no major oil companies showed interest and the news cycle churned through images of the insurrection at the Capitol.

The failure of that lease sale to generate interest or even a fraction of a percent of promised revenues cannot stop the second mandated lease sale from happening. The Biden administration has no choice. Only Congress can restore protections for the Arctic Refuge.

The Arctic Refuge Protection Act

On Feb. 1, members of the U.S. House and Senate reintroduced the Arctic Refuge Protection Act with the goal of restoring critical protections to the Arctic Refuge by designating the coastal plain as protected under the National Wilderness Preservation System.

The act was introduced in the last congressional session as well but didn’t pass. This year doesn’t look any easier, unfortunately. Still, it’s important to elevate this legislation while looking to the near future for opportunities for this important legislation to become law.

Gwich’in matriarchs and Arctic Refuge advocates with legislators after reintroduction of the act. Photo by Keri Oberly.

In a statement applauding reintroduction of the bill, Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said “We will continue to stand against destruction of sacred lands important to the caribou, our way of life and identity as Gwich’in. Stopping oil and gas exploitation of the Arctic Refuge is not just necessary and an effective climate action, but also the only way to protect the health of the Arctic and our communities. We are grateful to these legislators for once again standing with the Gwich’in.”

The Gwich’in Nation has repeatedly called for protection of the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge in a formal resolution first passed in 1988.

In July 2022, on the first full day of the Gwich’in Gathering in Old Crow, Yukon Territory, Canada, the Nation again reaffirmed that resolution calling for the U.S. President and Congress to “recognize the rights of the Gwich’in to continue to live our way of life by prohibiting development in the calving and post-calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd.”

This bill would do that.

If you speak out for climate action and for Arctic communities, stand too with the Gwich’in by calling for passage of the Arctic Refuge Protection Act.