Willow Project Must Survive: Biden Admin Must Approve Alaska Oil Reserve

In the northeast corner of the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, there is a 600 million barrel oil reserve called the Willow project. The United States needs that oil and has had to wait too long to get it.

The lease was purchased in 1999, when Bill Clinton was president. The permitting process has continued for more than two decades and through five presidential terms. Its final approval is now in the hands of the Biden administration’s Office of Land Management.

He has the continued support of Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation. The bureau estimates it will generate more than $10 billion in tax and royalty revenue, which, under current law, will be administered by the state of Alaska. Half of the federal royalties will be used to support public health clinics, schools, public safety, transportation, and the search and rescue capabilities of local Native communities.

The Willow project is supported by native groups. This support was expressed directly to the office by Joe Nukapigak, president of the Kuukpik corporation. John Hopson Jr., an Inupiat whaling captain and local elected official, has asked the White House for support. Alaska Native Federation President Julie Kitka wrote that the project “has undergone strict environmental permitting and a vigorous community engagement process” in a letter urging President Biden’s secretary of the interior, Deb Haaland, to approve it.

Alaska workers and unions are also on board. Joey Merrick, president of the Alaska District Council of Workers, called the project a job creator that will create 2,000 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs. That’s a lot of jobs and paychecks in a small community. Mr. Merrick also noted the office’s estimate that 75% of Willow’s installation work, about 9 million man-hours, will come from union workers working at union wages.

Most of the opposition to the Willow project comes from the lower 48. The Washington, DC-based Alaska Wilderness League and The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Evergreen Action and Friends of the Earth are the groups that demonstrated outside the White House, calling for the termination of the NPR-project. To Willow of $8 billion.

Relying on the sound of their voices instead of hard science, protesters complained about the potential impact on the environment and the caribou and their migratory habits. They didn’t have much to say about the jobs that won’t be created if the project isn’t allowed to move forward.

In Alaska, the Voice of the Arctic Inupiat, which represents Inupiat groups on the North Slope, says protests by green groups are a threat to their way of life. “Outside groups from nearly 4,000 miles away are actively co-opting our voices and promoting misinformation to the Biden administration in an effort to drown out the perspectives of local communities and regional leadership who overwhelmingly support The Willow Project. Those who actively work to stop the Willow Project threaten our Iñupiat culture that depends on and coexists with projects like Willow.”

The Greens’ loudest complaint is that the project would produce as many carbon emissions as 66 new coal-fired power plants.

Leaving aside the argument that, based on demand, an equal amount of oil will be consumed from either Willow or Venezuela, the opposition’s carbon emissions claims are full of soot. Using EPA calculations for China’s latest coal-fired power plant, all the oil produced by the Willow project will produce what comes out of about eight new coal-fired plants in a single year.

If the anti-Willow protesters were really concerned about carbon emissions, why not protest against the Chinese? In 2021, China added more coal plants than the rest of the world combined. Your emissions will wipe out several years’ worth of carbon emissions reductions here in the US.

Perhaps carbon emissions are the real goal. By comparison, China produces roughly twice the world’s carbon dioxide (23%) as the US. The US has reduced its carbon footprint to 2005 levels by 2020. Policies are in place to continue that trend. The United States leads the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, while China is on track to double its emissions in less than 20 years.

There is a certainty that energy costs will continue to rise. This hurts the bottom line for Americans. When demand is stable and more power is available, costs go down. When less power is available, the price goes up.

Americans cite the price of energy as one of their biggest concerns. To reduce it, produce more. Once online, the Willow project will help to do so. Just as important, it will benefit Alaska Natives, union workers and the Alaskan economy. It’s time for the Biden administration to leave protest banners behind and bring Alaska’s Willow Project to life.

• Todd Tiahrt is a former member of Congress and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Appropriations from Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.