President Joe Biden approved an $8 billion ConocoPhillips drilling project in Alaska’s oil-rich North Slope, despite opposition from environmental groups and indigenous communities. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet member, was urged by leaders of major environmental organizations and indigenous groups to block the Willow oil project due to its potential impact on climate change. However, many Native groups in Alaska supported Willow as a job creator and economic lifeline. The final approval reflects a substantially smaller project than originally proposed by ConocoPhillips and includes a commitment to relinquish nearly 70,000 acres (28,000 hectares) of leased land that will no longer be developed.
Haaland has been criticized for endorsing the Willow Project despite her previous stance against it when she served in Congress. New Mexico’s senior Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich rebuked her decision while Rep. Melanie Stansbury joined millions of people opposing the project based on its consequences for global climate change.
The decision highlights conflicting interests between promoting jobs and economic growth versus protecting natural resources amid efforts to combat climate change. It also raises concerns about how decisions are made regarding public lands with cultural significance for Indigenous communities.
While some supporters argue that projects like Willow can provide benefits such as employment opportunities or tax revenue generation; others worry about their long-term impacts on wildlife habitats or traditional ways of life dependent upon subsistence hunting practices.