New York Times Story on the Alaska Willow Project

Caribou near ConocoPhillips oil pipelines, which are elevated to allow herds to pass beneath.


There are several different lenses I’ve been looking at news stories through. One is a regional lens- so let’s take a look at this story about the Willow Project in Alaska.  This project has had major ENGO forces arrayed against it, and the State folks united for it. Apparently it had bipartisan support in Alaska, plus support of many Alaska Native groups.

As per this quote from Rep. Peltola (D-AK)

 “I am grateful that the court has recognized the fact that Willow is a well-planned and beneficial project for Alaska and the nation, and that this most recent lawsuit should not be allowed to overrule the wishes of Alaskans and the President while it is being litigated,” said Rep. Peltola. “With this decision, the court acknowledges the years that the Willow Project has already spent under extensive litigation and environmental review, the approval of multiple levels of government, and the strong support for the project from the majority of affected Alaska Native groups. It’s finally time for Alaskans to get to work, and I look forward to seeing construction begin as we await the final resolution of this case.”

Anyway, the NYT story leads off with (in the tagline):

“Scientists say nations must stop new oil and gas projects to avoid climate catastrophe.”

Which scientists? There’s a link to the new IPCC report.

While scientists have warned that nations must stop approving new oil and gas drilling or face a perilous future on a dangerously heated planet, the people involved in the Willow project are eager to get going.


At the earliest, the crude would begin flowing in about six years. By that time, the Biden administration hopes that demand for oil will have plummeted because of federal investments to encourage use of renewable energy and to encourage a transition to electric vehicles.


Of course, that’s not what the Energy Secretary is saying..

The world will need fossil fuels for decades but they must be paired with technologies that capture their greenhouse gas emissions, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Wednesday.

The Biden administration wants the U.S. to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to help limit global warming. It is seeking to displace oil, gas, and coal with renewable energy and electric technologies, but forecasts, including those by the Energy Information Administration, indicate prolonged demand for traditional energy sources.

“We know that even the boldest projections for clean energy deployment suggest that, in the middle of this century, we’ll be using abated fossil fuels,” Granholm said during remarks at CERAWeek by S&P Global, an annual industry conference in Houston.

“Abated” refers to fossil fuel combustion linked with carbon management technologies, which capture emissions so they can be kept from entering the atmosphere.

“We need both traditional and new energy,” added Granholm, who, along with President Joe Biden, has asked the oil and gas sector to increase production to alleviate high energy prices at home and in the larger global energy marketplace.

Her pronouncement comes as many environmental interest groups and some lawmakers in Congress push for policies to block new oil and gas development and related infrastructure to slow climate change.

The administration has supported increased oil and gas production in response to higher prices and the war in Ukraine.


My bold, decades vs. six years. Maybe the difference is between “hopes” and “beliefs”.. but maybe different people in the Biden Admin have different views.. and it’s not speaking with one voice on this?


Still, projected emissions from Willow would be a small fraction of the 5.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually by the United States, the second biggest polluter on the planet after China. ConocoPhillips and the Biden administration both say that if Willow were not permitted, supply to meet demand would just shift to oil drilling elsewhere.


It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics, plus recent experience, to say that reducing supply without decreasing demand leads to higher prices. Which affect the poorest people the most.  It would be interesting if the reporter found someone who would go on record as explaining the mechanics of how supply would not go elsewhere.

Burning all that oil could release nearly 254 million metric tons of carbon emissions. On an annual basis, that would translate into 8.4 million metric tons of carbon pollution, equal to adding nearly two million cars to the roads each year.

Again, it’s not clear to me why reporters continue to make these statements.. I guess anything “could” happen and there is a world in which folks wouldn’t have used those 600 million barrels if they hadn’t been produced in this project.

 “When do you get off fossil fuels?” said Abigail Dillen, the president of Earthjustice, which is leading the lawsuit against the project. “After you destroy one of the most important and fragile ecosystems for wildlife in the world, or before?”

This seems like rhetoric, not an actual path to decarbonization.  The “just say no” campaign directed at producers, not users.

I thought this was curious.. perhaps while the oil fields are “giant”,  500 acres to suck it out is.. not.

To drill profitably in the North Slope, the oil fields have to be “giant,” Mr. Marks said. Although the Biden administration reduced the size of ConocoPhillips’s original plan, Willow will have a footprint of almost 500 acres and at its peak could generate about 180,000 barrels of oil a day.

This was also curious..

The benefits to Alaska, which remains dependent on fossil fuel revenues because it has no statewide sales tax or personal income tax, will be somewhat limited. Willow is on federal land, which means that Washington will receive royalties but that Alaska will be able to collect only oil-production taxes, which would be offset by company tax deductions for expenses. For a few years, until the oil starts flowing, Willow could even have a small negative impact on state revenues.

I’m confused.. aren’t some of those royalties returned to the States? I looked at the BLM website and it says:

All Federal oil and gas royalty, rental fee, and bonus bid revenue is split about half between the U.S. Treasury and the states where development occurred. The amount of annual revenue that Federal mineral development provides to the U.S. Treasury is second only to that provided by the Internal Revenue Service.

In fact, it looks like New Mexico made 2.74 billion from the feds for oil and gas in 2022, and Alaska 45 mill.  Thank you helpful DOI site!

What I like about this story is that Native Alaskans who support the project are interviewed in addition to those concerned about it (and the great photos).

Their attitude seems to be .. if we are going to be using it (oil and gas) why shouldn’t it come from here?  And we get taxes and economic benefits and our own environmental regulations. This seems reasonable to me.

And why isn’t the Energy Secretary’s approach (or maybe it’s the entire Admin, who can tell?) good enough for Earthjustice?

5 thoughts on “New York Times Story on the Alaska Willow Project”

  1. “…if Willow were not permitted, supply to meet demand would just shift to oil drilling elsewhere.”

    The same argument can be used with timber harvesting. A decrease in harvests in one area will lead to increases somewhere else. When timber harvest levels declined in the PNW, production shifted to the US Sourtheast and BC.

    • A country will loose a war if it depends on battery propelled vehicles…the internal combustion engine is relevant to national defense/security. Blue hydrogen is the answer , not electric vehicles with giant lithium batteries that are and will be an environmental hazard..BLUE HYDROGEN…until now it has been denied the future..each home could produce its own individual independent energy generation from water for home and auto.(thus no more manipulated spikes in your energy bills). You can thank the standard oil and rockerfeller oil monopoly for too much pollution in the atmosphere..for the long delay in minor polluting hydrogen energy which still allows those who love muscle cars , 4×4 trucks , and tanks…bulldozers…ect…Arguing about Willow is secondary to arguing about the big picture .Why are we at this moment in time?

  2. Ideally, both where to drill and where to log (at least on public lands) should be based on where that has the least adverse effects. With hydrocarbons, there is the overarching goal of drilling as little as possible because drilling anywhere has effects that are problematic. If we knew the rate at which demand for oil and gas would fall, we could figure out how much more we’ll need and locations that would achieve that while minimizing effects. All we really know, however, if you accept the scientific arguments being made, is that the effects here would be bad, maybe worse than most places, so we should go somewhere else.

    Meanwhile, a preliminary injunction has been denied, mostly because there is little time remaining in the frozen season when they can get construction work done, and that work will not result in any actual drilling.

    • Umm.. how was it decided that the effects there are “worse than elsewhere”… was there a national EIS done as to drilling impacts?

      • I said “maybe” because we haven’t done that analysis. About all we’ve got to go on is how much attention opponents can generate, and this one has a lot of attention.


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