As the Biden administration comes closer to announcing a decision on an Alaska drilling plan called the Willow project, social media users are calling for the project to be stopped.
The project, pitched by petroleum refinery company ConocoPhillips Alaska, would entail drilling in the Willow oil field, a federal oil reserve in Alaska’s petroleum-rich North Slope, according to The Associated Press. According to the company, the project could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day, or 1.5% of total U.S. oil production.
ConocoPhillips initially asked for five drilling sites, but the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said in February that three sites would be a “preferred alternative.” There is bipartisan support for the project in Alaska, AP reported, and some indigenous groups close to the area support the plan because it would provide more revenue and create jobs in the area.
However, the project has come under fire from climate advocates. According to AP, it’s estimated that even using the “preferred alternative” of only three drilling sites, the project would produce 278 million tons of greenhouse gases over the course of its proposed 30-year run, about the same amount of emissions that two million passenger cars would create over the same period.
Area locals have also spoken out against the project as well, with the mayor of the nearby city and native village of Nuiqsut writing a ten-page letter expressing concern about the plan and its impact on the environment and wildlife. In February, the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the BLM, said in a statement that it has “substantial concerns” about the project and the preferred alternative presented by the BLM.
The Department’s concerns, the statement said, include the effects of “direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence.”
President Biden, who campaigned on promises of slashing carbon emissions, ending new oil and gas drilling on federal lands and moving away from oil and gas power, is expected to announce a decision on the project in the next week.
Those campaign promises are part of what has galvanized the #StopWillow social media trend, in which people are calling on Mr. Biden to say no to the plan.
Many of the posters are young Gen Z voters. According to 2021 research by the Pew Research Center, Gen Z and millennial voters favored Biden by a margin of about 20 points in the 2020 election. The #StopWillow posts are commonly shared on TikTok in the form of short videos, some of which have gained hundreds of thousands or even millions of views while explaining the project and its potential negative impacts.
Several of the videos provide concrete steps that people opposed to the Willow project can take, including links to petitions or a script to read when contacting local representatives or the White House to express opposition to the proposal.
Protests have also taken place in Washington, D.C., with groups standing outside the White House in December and the Department of the Interior in November.
Larger advocacy groups have also issued statements, and it’s likely the project would face legal challenges even if it were approved by the Biden administration, AP reported.
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