Ranking Democrat Grijalva Slams Move to Approve Massive Willow Oil and Gas Development Project

Washington, D.C. – Natural Resources Committee Ranking Democrat Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today issued the following statement on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision to take the next step forward in approving ConocoPhillips’ massive Willow project, which will lock in oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska for the next 30 years. A final Record of Decision will be made in no fewer than 30 days. Approval of the Willow project, which includes 250 wells, multiple pipelines, a central processing plant, an airport, and a gravel mine close to ecologically fragile habitats, directly contradicts the Biden administration’s ambitious climate and conservation goals and environmental justice commitments.

“Giving ConocoPhillips the green light on the Willow project is not just a disaster in its own right—it paves the way for even more oil and gas drilling in the area in the future,” said Grijalva. “Today’s decision sends the dangerous message that the fight against climate change, Alaska Natives’ and local residents’ lives, and wildlife are not good enough reasons to keep Big Oil from getting their way. This is the exact opposite of what the Biden administration stands for and the opposite of what Alaskans and this country need.”

Over the next 30 years, the Willow project is expected to produce 287 million tons of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of 76 coal plants’ annual emissions. This amount of carbon pollution is estimated to cause nearly $20 billion in climate change-related damages. 

The project and its myriad infrastructure will also threaten the health and safety of Alaska Natives and other local communities. Last March, a gas leak at a nearby ConocoPhillips’ oil field on Alaska’s North Slope spewed more than 7 million cubic feet of natural gas into the atmosphere. Nuiqsut, an Inupiat village that is near that oil field and the Willow project, has expressed serious concerns about the project’s impacts on their way of life and subsistence food sources, including caribou, fish, and birds.

The Willow project was first approved in the spring of 2020 after the Trump administration notoriously rushed the public input process during the height of the pandemic, effectively ignoring widespread opposition from Alaska Native communities and conservation groups. In August 2021, a federal court reversed the Trump administration’s approval of the project, citing the administration’s failure to consider its contribution to carbon pollution.

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Lindsay Gressard