Media Resources

MEMO: President Biden must stop climate-threatening Willow oil project

TO: Editorial Writers

FROM: Tim Woody, (907) 223-2443,

REGARDING: President Biden must stop climate-threatening Willow oil project

DATE: February 1, 2023

The federal Bureau of Land Management today released its final supplemental environmental impact statement on ConocoPhillips’ proposed Willow Master Development Plan for the Western Arctic, and recommended approval of the $8 billion oil-drilling project that is projected to release more than 280 million metric tons of greenhouse gases over the next 30 years.

Despite severely undermining President Biden’s goals on addressing the global climate crisis, his administration is marching toward final approval of the project in the Western Arctic’s National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska with a formal record of decision that could come in as little as 30 days.

It is important to note that the U.S. Department of the Interior today issued a separate press release stating:

“The final SEIS includes a preferred alternative, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The preferred alternative is not a decision about whether to approve the Willow Project.

“The Department has substantial concerns about the Willow project and the preferred alternative as presented in the final SEIS, including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence.”

It is our hope that your editorial staff will take the responsible action of writing that if Biden is serious about fighting climate change and protecting his legacy on the most serious threat of our time, it is critical that prevent final approval of the Willow project.

The long-term environmental and climate impacts of the project would include degraded air quality and harm to subsistence resources for communities in the region as it produces tens of millions of barrels of oil per year from about 250 wells over the project’s predicted three-decade lifespan. The resulting infrastructure of roads, bridges and pipelines are expected to facilitate even more development that would worsen climate change.

As you may recall, U.S. District Court of Alaska Judge Sharon Gleason ruled in the summer of 2021 that the Trump administration failed to evaluate the project’s negative impacts on wildlife and the impact that burning so much oil would have on the world’s climate. The ruling voided permits that had been issued during Trump’s term.

Since then, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and ConocoPhillips have worked to revise a plan for the massive project.

A carbon disaster

In addition to adding more than 280 million metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, Willow would likely spur even more oil projects in Western Arctic, which contains enough fossil fuels that, if burned, would equal more than twice the carbon emissions of burning all the oil that the Keystone XL pipeline would have carried over its 50-year lifespan

“No other oil and gas project has greater potential to undermine the Biden administration’s climate goals, so moving forward with it would be unconscionable,” said Karlin Itchoak, Alaska senior regional director for The Wilderness Society. “If this project were to move forward, it would result in the production and burning of at least 30 years of oil at a time when the world needs climate solutions and a transition to clean energy.

“Everyone – particularly the president – should remember that BLM’s recommendation is not final,” Itchoak added. “This administration still has time to stop this project for the good of the global community.”

Ground zero for climate change

The Arctic is ground zero for climate change, where temperatures are rising two to four times faster than the rest of the planet. Villages are eroding into the sea, thawing permafrost is making infrastructure insecure and food sources are disappearing.

At approximately 23 million acres, BLM lands in the Western Arctic make up the largest single remaining unit of wild public land in America—bigger than 10 Yellowstone National Parks, and nearly the size of the state of Indiana. Under the area’s Integrated Activity Plan, nearly half of the NPR-A’s lands are set aside for special protection in designated “Special Areas.”

It is the cultural homeland and subsistence area for Alaska Native communities and supports robust, wild ecosystems and resources on which those communities depend: Caribou, geese, loons, salmon, polar bears and bowhead whales.

If approved, the Willow Master Development Plan would involve the globally unique Teshekpuk Lake Special Area. For decades, this area has been protected and recognized for its ecological importance to millions of migratory birds, and serves as the calving ground and insect relief area for one of the region’s four caribou herds.

By producing tens of millions of barrels of oil every year for 30 years, the Willow project would accelerate the climate crisis and lead to devastating consequences for wildlife, water resources and subsistence hunting in the Arctic.

The Biden administration must respect the science and protect our climate by stopping Willow.



The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization uniting people to care for America’s wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 111 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.