Student Voices: The Willow Project

On March 13, the Biden Administration approved the Willow Project, allowing more oil pumps on Alaska’s North Slope. 

Oil company ConocoPhillips has been working on this project for decades, as they own multiple smaller pumps in the state. In 2020, the Willow Project was approved by the Donald Trump Administration, allowing the corporation to build five new pumps on the National Petroleum Reserve, which is owned by the federal government. 

Although many blame President Joe Biden for this recent approval, the issue is more complicated. Because Trump already approved this during his term, a $5 billion federal dollars lawsuit to stop this project would ensue, according to the New York Times. In his efforts to uphold his campaign promise of ceasing new oil drills from being built, Biden limited the project to three drills, as opposed to the original five, and has declared to designate around 2.8 million acres of land in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska as off-limits to future oil company endeavors. Even with this reduction, the project is estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil in a single day—which would be supplied to U.S. citizens, helping make fuel more accessible, lower prices and limit dependency for oil on foreign countries.

This issue is not just about the environment, as the area is home to many Alaska natives and other wildlife. The native village of Nuiqsut lives closest to the proposed drill sites and, according to NPR and NDN Collective, wrote a letter to the Department of Interior expressing concern.

“It seems that despite its nod to traditional ecological knowledge, BLM (Bureau of Land Management)  does not consider relevant the extensive knowledge and expertise we have gained over millennia, living in a way that is so deeply connected to our environment,” the letter states. 

Although this issue is very much out of our hands, the newest generation seems to have the strongest opinions, as it will affect us more than anyone else.

Hashtags including #willowproject, #stopwillow and #stopthewillowproject created a larger online movement and began promoting change on TikTok, an immensely popular video sharing site fueled by teens. These videos have amassed over 88 million U.S. views, according to NPR

London Nicol, a senior at Bend High, commented on the effects of simple hashtags, as well as her own experience and relationship with the climate change coalition.

“I recently became a vegetarian, it’s made me feel closer with the environment and how my actions impact the world on a small level,” said London Nicol, a senior at Bend High. 

“The biggest concern for me is that our generation had a huge impact after hearing about this. One million letters were sent to the White House and three million individuals signed a petition, but this project still got approved,” said Nicol. “There’s a clear disrespect coming from authorities, it’s not right or fair that this issue barely gained government attention for how many voices came forward.” 

When Paige Leonardo heard about the Willow Project, she wanted to understand new perspectives as well as the impacts on other communities. Leonardo cares deeply about the environment and lives a sustainable life to the best of her abilities.

“I show my passion through my daily activities. I’m a pescetarian, I don’t eat red meat, and I try to shop sustainably. I thrift all my clothes just so it reduces the waste of water. I sign petitions often as well,” said Leonardo, a self-proclaimed environmentalist and senior at Summit High School.

“Here’s the sad part about the Willow Project—it disproportionately impacts indigenous peoples of Alaska more than it will impact people in the continental U.S.,” said Leonardo. “I think we’ll feel the impact further down the road through possible climate disasters, but it’s directly impacting individuals that are already discriminated against in the U.S.”

Loudyn Hudson, a senior at Summit, takes care of his own compost as well as his neighbors’ and is the co-president of his high school’s environmental club.

“Because drills in this area have always been there and we have grown up with that, our generation has not been able to do much. Now that it’s expanding, we’re trying to draw the line,” said Hudson.

“In the next 30 years, the project will emit 239 million tons of CO2,” said Hudson. “No one else is doing anything. Our generation is the last line of defense.”


  • Bayla Orton

    Bayla Orton is a magician of the media. A necromancer of news. A warrior wordsmith. When Bayla isn’t dining with worldly mentors or hunting misinformation, she’s defeating the oxford comma. One could refer to her as the “James Bond” of journalism. Borton. Is. Eternal.

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