The Stream

Why are many Alaska Natives supporting a US oil mega project?

On Wednesday, March 22 at 19:30 GMT:
The US government has just approved one of the largest-ever oil drilling projects on federal lands. Located in Alaska’s North Slope, the $8-billion Willow oil project aims to produce an estimated 576 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years.

Environmentalists say the move represents not only a disaster waiting to happen, but a betrayal of US promises to fight climate change. Last week environmental groups filed lawsuits against the US government to halt the planned development. The Willow Project’s approval contradicts US President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign promise of ending all new oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

The project’s three drilling locations lie within an area that was designated for future oil exploration a century ago. Local supporters, including lawmakers and many North Slope Alaska Natives, see the Willow Project as a win for their communities, as it aims to create thousands of jobs and provide much-needed tax revenue to improve public services.

But some neighbouring Inupiaq communities still fear the threat of pollution and development that could devastate local ecosystems and upend subsistence ways of life.

In the second of three episodes of The Stream dedicated to the climate emergency, we’ll hear more about the Willow Project and the debate over continued oil development in the Arctic.