The “carbon bomb”: ConocoPhillips’ Arctic oil project would threaten wildlife and our climate

Home to caribou and polar bears, Alaska’s North Slope could soon also be the new home of a massive oil project that would pump the carbon emissions equivalent of 66 new coal-fired power plants into the atmosphere.

NPS Climate Change Response via Flickr | Public Domain
The climate-warming carbon emissions from oil and gas projects such as ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project are threatening Arctic wildlife, such as caribou.

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On Alaska’s North Slope, just south of the Arctic Ocean, lies a coastal plain that is remote, very difficult for people to reach, and teeming with life from migratory birds to caribou to polar bears.

ConocoPhillips, Alaska’s largest crude oil producer, has proposed a massive drilling project that would devastate this irreplaceable wilderness.

We can’t risk spoiling the Arctic for a little more oil. 

A “carbon bomb”: Carbon emissions equal to 66 coal-fired power plants

The drilling proposal, called the Willow Project, is aimed at the Western Arctic area in Alaska. The region houses Teshekpuk Lake, the calving ground of the Teshekpuk caribou herd, and is home to wildlife such as polar bears and many migratory birds.

The rising temperatures associated with climate change have made fossil fuel extraction in places such as the Arctic more difficult and costly due to melting permafrost. So ConocoPhillips plans to refreeze the tundra using “chillers” and then proceed to drill it for oil.

The proposed 30 years of oil drilling from the Willow Project will extract 500 million barrels of petroleum from this snowy sanctuary, and the project will single-handedly release annual emissions equivalent to 66 new coal-fired power plants operating in a given year. Hence the label “carbon bomb.”

The Willow Project threatens wildlife — but you can help protect them

If approved, the Willow Project will also require new infrastructure such as drill sites, miles of gravel roads, bridges, an airstrip, hundreds of miles of ice roads and a gravel mine in this fragile ecosystem.

So even before the oil drilling begins, the construction will fragment wildlife habitats and put animals at risk in their own homes.

Stopping the Willow Project will mean protecting this wildlife, and as well as preventing the existential threats it poses to the Iñupiat Peoples, whose traditional food and cultural practices are tied to the region’s resources and whose ancestors have lived in this area for centuries.

We’re already urging the Department of the Interior to stop the approval process for this project in its tracks. 

But there’s more we can do. You can join thousands of voices in calling directly on ConocoPhillips to abandon the drilling plan before it spoils the Arctic forever.

By standing together against senseless oil drilling in the Arctic, we can protect land, wildlife and so much more. Add your name to our petition today.

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Authors

Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.

Steve Blackledge

Senior Director, Conservation America Campaign, Environment America

Steve directs Environment America’s efforts to protect our public lands and waters and the species that depend on them. He led our successful campaign to win full and permanent funding for our nation’s best conservation and recreation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He previously oversaw U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns. Steve lives in Sacramento, California, with his family, where he enjoys biking and exploring Northern California.