Until recently, "Willow" was nothing more than a beautiful tree, a 1998 film by George Lucas and Ron Howard, and a chart-topping song by Taylor Swift. But unfortunately, it's also the name of a controversial oil drilling operation being proposed in Alaska.
Run by ConocoPhillips and known as the Willow Project, this enterprise has been the subject of major backlash, leading to the eruption of a campaign known as #StopWillow.
And considering the damage that the Willow Project would cause on the planet and Indigenous communities in Alaska, it's no surprise that climate activists want to "Stop Willow."
And with President Joe Biden expected to make a decision regarding the Willow Project's future in early March, there's no better time than the present to add your voice to this campaign. Keep reading for all the details.
What is the Willow Project?
The Willow Project is a proposed giant oil drilling project on the North Slope of Alaska — specifically, within the National Petroleum Reserve, aka America’s Western Arctic, a 23-million-acre area of land that holds up to 600 million barrels of oil, according to CNN.
This National Petroleum Reserve is owned by the federal government and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The Trump administration first approved of the Willow Project years ago, but in 2021, a federal judge from Alaska denied the project's permits, on the grounds of "flawed" environmental analysis, Reuters reported.
Despite that, in February 2023, the Biden administration stated that it plans to support this project (albeit, a slightly reduced version of it).
But even before that, environmentalists have been demanding that Biden and his administration try to #StopWillow — something that is being ramped up, now that Biden's decision is imminent.
Stop Willow, aka #StopWillow, is asking Biden to shut down this destructive oil project.
Stop Willow, aka #StopWillow, is a campaign that emerged in response to the Willow Project, with a mission to "Protect the Western Arctic: America’s largest piece of undisturbed public land."
According to the campaign's website, developing the National Petroleum Reserve, which is about the size of Virginia, would be devastating primarily for two reasons. The first is the potential impact on the climate, as the area is rich with wildlife and biodiversity.
If the Willow Project gets constructed, "it would emit more climate pollution annually than more than 99.7 percent of all single point sources in the country," as per Stop Willow. It would also burn enough oil to produce emissions equivalent to the annual emissions of 76 coal-fired power plants.
"Willow is a climate disaster we just can’t afford," Stop Willow's website states.
Secondly, the Willow Project is a matter of climate injustice against local Indigenous communities, as this project would harm the "Indigenous communities who’ve thrived in the region for thousands of years."
Oil drilling disrupts natural patterns of nature, degrades habitats, threatens food security, and more — not to mention, it could turn into a major public health issue for Indigenous communities.
"The administration should heed local traditional Indigenous knowledge and observations about the impacts of the climate crisis" on endless aspects of local Indigenous communities' lives, from food security to rising temperatures, Stop Willow stated.
“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 said in a statement. "Oil and gas development should not happen at the expense of our health and our survival. Our communities are not sacrifice zones."
How to help stop the Willow Project by signing the petition and more:
Stop Willow is begging Biden and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland: "Don’t Take Us Backwards."
"It’s time to move forward with a supercharged transition to clean energy," Stop Willow's website states. "ConocoPhillips’ dirty and dangerous Willow project in America’s Arctic threatens to take us backwards."
"Approving Willow goes directly against President Biden's climate commitments and undermines his climate legacy," Protect the Arctic stated. "Instead, President Biden should be creating new jobs in technology and infrastructure for sustainable, renewable domestic energy. Drilling America's Arctic for more oil and gas is an antiquated energy plan that further enriches Big Oil at the expense of everyone else."
You can get involved in #StopWillow by signing the official petition on the Protect the Arctic website.
On the linked page, you'll also find a phone number for the White House switchboard, where you can call and leave a comment (don't worry, a script is provided on the website).
Additionally, you can spread the message about this issue on social media, and make sure to use the hashtag #StopWillow in your social media posts (you'll find assets here). In fact, posts with the #StopWillow hashtag have been taking over TikTok as of late, especially as Biden's decision on the matter looms — so why not get involved?
Did Biden stop the Willow Project? Was it approved?
As stated above, Biden is expected to make "a final decision" regarding the future of the Willow Project's future sometime in early March 2023. As of publication on March 7, he has not yet announced a decision.
It's truly unclear which way he will go — after being sworn in as POTUS, he signed an executive order that paused new drilling leases on public lands, as per Bloomberg. However, he has recently backpedaled on his campaign promise to put an end to new drilling leases.
For instance, in his State of the Union address, made in February 2023, he appealed to U.S. fossil fuel companies, asking them to find ways to domestically produce more oil, Bloomberg reported.
But with the #StopWillow campaign only gaining traction, hopefully Biden will be swayed to do what's right, put an end to the Willow Project, and instead invest more in renewable energy.