White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday denied reports that U.S. President Joe Biden would imminently approve the Willow Project, saying "no final decisions" have been made on the highly controversial $8 billion ConocoPhillips oil drilling endeavor in northern Alaska slammed by critics as a "climate catastrophe."
"Anyone who says there has been a final decision is wrong," Jean-Pierre told reporters Friday evening after outlets including Bloomberg, CNN, and The New York Timesreported that the Biden administration would green-light what would be the single-largest oil operation in the United States.
"President Biden is delivering on the most aggressive climate agenda of any U.S. president in history and spurring an unprecedented expansion of clean energy," the White House spokesperson added.
Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—who supports the project—told the Times that she had not received notification of its approval.
"We are not celebrating yet, not with this White House," she said.
Climate campaigners, Indigenous groups, environmentalists, dozens of Democratic U.S. lawmakers, and others are vehemently opposed to what many have called a "ticking carbon bomb" and a "climate catastrophe."
The Biden administration's own assessment of the project acknowledges that it "would likely incur spills," and the Interior Department has expressed "substantial concerns" about the proposal.
According to the Sierra Club:
Willow is sited in a vast Arctic landscape that provides critical habitat for birds from all over the world as well as animals like the caribou that subsistence hunters rely on to feed their families and communities. Native communities, like Nuiquset, are already dealing with the consequences of oil development in the region, including deteriorating air quality and a spike in respiratory disorders. Last year, a well in Conoco's Alpine Field blew out, spewing methane into the air and endangering residents of Nuiquset. These risks are already here, and Willow only makes them worse.
On Friday, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore called the proposed project "recklessly irresponsible," adding that "we must end the expansion of oil, gas, and coal and embrace the abundant climate solutions at our fingertips."
Len Montgomery, public lands campaign director at Environment America, told Common Dreams via email that "we need our leaders to think long-term. Clean energy, not oil, is our future."
"Allowing a brand new Arctic oil project to break ground in one of our most sensitive ecosystems would be short-sighted," Montgomery argued. "This project will exacerbate climate change and will directly harm caribou and polar bears. We are inspired by the outpouring of opposition against this project from across the country and we will continue our efforts to prevent the chillers, the ice roads, and the well pads from ever encroaching on this pristine area."
Quannah Chasinghorse—a Han Gwich'In and Sicangu/Oglala Lakota land protector, climate justice activist, and fashion model from Eagle Village, Alaska and the tribes of South Dakota—wrote in a CNNopinion article Friday that "ConocoPhillips has claimed that the Willow Project could create thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent ones, along with needed oil, but at what cost?"
"We must change the narrative that the land serves us and only exists so that we can extract resources from it."
"Make no mistake, it will not only be local communities, or even Alaskans, who will feel the negative climate impacts of this project," she continued. "According to an analysis from the Center for American Progress, developing and burning oil from the Willow Project would produce up to 287 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years. That's equal to the annual emissions of 76 coal power plants—a third of all coal plants in the United States."
"We must change the narrative that the land serves us and only exists so that we can extract resources from it," Chasinghorse asserted. "My elders tell me that if we take care of the land, the land will take care of us. We cannot live without healthy land. Not just us Gwich'in. All of us, everywhere"
"President Biden, stop the Willow Project," she added. "Stop climate chaos, before it's too late"