Big Oil Wants to Refreeze Alaska Permafrost — So It Can Keep Drilling There

If ConocoPhillips succeeds, there will soon to be chillers on the Alaskan tundraRefreezing the ground to allow it to support new oil drilling equipment. The company explains that the Arctic permafrost is rapidly melting, and this perverse technological-solution is required.

Nothing better expresses the cruel absurdity at the heart of ConocoPhillips’s “Willow Project” — its 30-year plan to extract hundreds of millions of barrels of crudeFrom ecologically sensitive lands in the far North.

If approved, this plan will create a new Prudhoe Bay on top of increasingly unstable tundra. locking in decades of oil productionDespite the fact that the climate crisis is threatening ecosystems around the world, ConocoPhillips will continue to expand its petroleum production in Alaska. Unless the Biden administration stops this project, ConocoPhillips will massively expand petroleum production on Alaska’s North Slope — beginning as early as this winter.

Endorsing the Trump-era plan undermines President Joe Biden’s climate promises, threatens the health of the Indigenous community of Nuiqsut, and continues the long tradition of sacrificing large swathes of Arctic Alaska to the short-term interests of the fossil fuel industry. It also perpetuates the fantasy held by many Alaskan political leaders that unsustainable resource extraction can remain their state’s primary economic model.

The Willow Master Development PlanIt is incredible in scale. ConocoPhillips, a Texas-based oil and natural gas giant, proposes industrializing vast stretches of land and filling it with sprawling webs of fossil fuel infrastructure. The project would include five new drilling locations, a gravel mine and a processing center, as well as pipelines, a processing area, an airstrip, gravel roads and ice roads. All of this is on federal land in the Western Arctic. ConocoPhillips plans drilling there for the next thirty years. The Willow Project will produce over 180,000 barrels of crude oil per day at peak production. According to the Washington Post, the company has privately told investors that it will extract 3 billion barrels of oil — five times more than the estimate used by government scientists to assess Willow’s climate impact. ConocoPhillips is now waiting for final approval from the Biden administration.

The company plans to construct this project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which — despite its name — is not a fossil fuel warehouse waiting to be tapped. The Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 1 was established in 1923. It was originally established as the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 in order to provide emergency fuel supplies to the Navy. In 1976, it was renamed and its management transferred to the Department of the Interior. The reserve covers more than 23 million acres and is the largest holding of public land in the United States. It is also a vibrant and diverse ecological spaceIt is home to large numbers of wildlife species that migrate from all over the continent and the globe. Thousands upon thousands of shorebirds, waterfowl, loons, geese, and other birds seek shelter and sustenance in the reserve’s lakes and wetlands; beluga and bowhead whales, spotted seals, and other marine mammals feast in the neighboring waters; and the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd, currently numbering over 50,000 animals, relies on the reserve as its calving grounds.

Moreover, the reserve is vital to the culture, health and food security of Iñupiat communities along the North Slope, making the Willow debate an urgent issue of environmental justice. The Iñupiat stewarded Arctic lands long before they were stolen by Russia in the 18th century and sold to the United States in 1867. They are now on the frontlines of the climate crisis, just like other Alaskan Indigenous communities. Big Oil wants more Indigenous homelands to be industrialized oil fields.

In the Alpine fields, just east of the reserve, ConocoPhillips began drilling in the 1990s — and the effects were soon felt in the nearby Iñupiat community of Nuiqsut. Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, a community health aid at the time, noticed an alarming increase in patients suffering from asthma and other respiratory diseases.

“I had to start staying up all night to help people breathe,” she recalled. “When you hold those little babies, and you see those sick little eyes, and you’re fighting for them to breathe, you get very active in the process of questioning what’s happening to our village.”

Ahtuangaruak has been elected mayor of Nuiqsut. She emphasizesThe community is suffering from the effects of the Alpine development. Ahtuangaruak, along with other Nuiqsut residents, oppose ConocoPhillips’ plans to further encircle their village through fossil fuel development. They are joined by the advocacy organization Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living ArcticMany environmental organizations.

“We shouldn’t be sacrificed for the national energy policy,” Ahtuangaruak says. “Our way of life is important to us. We want to continue to harvest food on our lands and waters.”

Unfortunately, the Biden administration took a page from the Trump playbookIn refusing community requests to extend the comment periodThe controversial project. This blatant disregard for Indigenous rights stifles community participation and appears to cater to ConocoPhillips’s efforts to rush the approval process.

ConocoPhillips clarified that the Willow Project is intended for expansion and will pave the path for the eventual completion of the Willow Project. next great Alaska hub for fossil fuel development. With the state’s oil production declining elsewhere in the state Sen. Lisa Murkowski and other political leaders are enthusiastically backing the projectIt is hoped that it will pump more crude oil into Trans-Alaska Pipeline and increase state revenues.

Although chillers on the tundra might sound like something out of a dystopian novel or movie, they could soon become a reality in Alaska’s northern reaches. ConocoPhillips’ hubris must be stopped. Refreezing the melting permafrost so that more oil can be extracted will only heat Arctic lands — and the planet — even more. Last year, President Biden made this promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Although the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act has been praised for its historic climate investments and achievements, approving Willow Project would undermine this progress and follow the science-denying path his predecessor. The public has until August 29To urge the Biden administration not to continue this massive project of environmental violence.