The “Willow Project” is the name for a project from ConocoPhillips, Alaska’s largest crude oil producer, which will extract oil and gas from areas within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), located on the North Slope.
The project, one of the largest oil developments on federal land, involves the construction of three drill pads and 199 production and injection wells.
A significant amount of new infrastructure will support the Willow project, including gravel roads, airstrips, pipelines, a new gravel mine, and module transfer islands to support deliveries via sealift barge. The state will see a significant influx of equipment and materials to support this construction throughout the project’s timeline.
A Brief Timeline of the Willow Project
ConocoPhillips acquires the initial Willow area leases.
Two exploratory wells are drilled.
The company begins the development permitting process, and the Bureau of Land Management begins drafting an environmental impact statement (EIS).
The Bureau of Land Management issues its Willow Master Development Plan Record of Decision (ROD) in October.
On the heels of two lawsuits, U.S. District Court for Alaska (District Court) vacates the ROD and finds that the BLM:
- Improperly excluded analysis of foreign greenhouse gas emissions
- Improperly screened out alternatives from detailed analysis based on BLM’s misunderstanding of leaseholders rights (i.e., that leases purportedly afforded the right to extract “all possible” oil and gas from each lease tract), and
- Failed to give due consideration to the requirement in the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act to afford “maximum protection” to significant surface values in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (TLSA).
The BLM releases a draft supplemental EIS in response to the court’s ruling.
The BLM releases final supplemental EIS is issued with an expanded range of alternatives.
The BLM releases a final Record of Decision on the Willow Project, recommending Alternative E, which allows for up to 199 total wells and three pipeline pads.
(Timeline sources: 1, 2, 3)
What Is the Purpose of the Willow Project?
Revenue & Economic Advantages to Alaska
Although the project hasn’t been without controversy (more on that next!), many Alaska residents and leaders have supported the project as an economic boon to the state.
ConocoPhillips’ projections anticipate between $8 and $17 billion in new revenue for the federal government, the state of Alaska, and North Slope Borough communities. Additionally, ConocoPhillips estimates the creation of 2,500 construction jobs and 300 long-term jobs.
Rep. Mary Peltola argued in favor of the project, which she believes will help revive the state’s flagging economy. Several Native Alaskan groups have also supported the project, welcoming its economic benefits for the residents of the North Slope Borough.
American Energy Independence
Proponents of the project also argue that extracting these resources from the National Petroleum Reserve will reduce American dependence on foreign energy supplies. At its peak, ConocoPhillips projects that the project will produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day.
Why Is the Willow Project Controversial?
Several conservation groups—including Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council—came together to file a lawsuit to halt the progress of the Willow Project.
The groups argue that, even under the scaled-down version of the plan, the project will “add about 260 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the next 30 years—the equivalent of nearly 70 coal-fired power plants operating for a year.” They also believe the Willow Project may act as a springboard for other projects that will result in additional drilling and extraction of fossil fuels from the North Slope.
Finally, the groups argue that the Biden administration didn’t fully consider the impact of endangered species in the area, including polar bears, ringed seals, and bearded seals.
Additionally, residents from the City of Nuiqsut and the Native Village of Nuiqsit have opposed the Willow Project. They anticipate a negative impact on residents’ health, as well as a loss of access to their subsistence resources, which they rely on for food.
What Are the Benefits of the Willow Project in Alaska?
The Willow Project stands to benefit Alaska in several key areas, as noted by the organizations and individuals who support the project:
A state of Alaska analysis projects significant revenue from the Willow Project, including:
- $4.4 billion of net cash flow through 2043 to the state
- $1.3 billion in municipal revenue to the North Slope Borough through 2053
- $3.4 billion in royalty shares to impacted communities through 2053
- $4.9 billion in royalties and corporate income tax to the federal government through 2053
For the North Slope Borough, this additional revenue has the potential to assist with vital services such as education; community and social services; and emergency services, all of which will benefit the long-established communities in the area.
Job Creation & Economic Opportunity
As we mentioned above, the Willow Project is estimated to generate 2,500 construction projects in the early phases of the project, plus 300 long-term jobs once the project is complete.
Additionally, the project also has the potential to offer contracting opportunities to Alaska Native-owned businesses, opening additional economic prospects for the region.
Ultimately, as a letter from the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat—a nonprofit organization established to create a unified voice for North Slope communities—put it:
“This project . . . would provide critical economic benefits and long-term stability to the people of Alaska’s remote North Slope. Willow will not only create new job opportunities directly related to the project, but it will also create new revenue for the borough through its ability to tax oil and gas infrastructure in our region. This revenue funds jobs and services in every community on the North Slope.”
Construction, Infrastructure, and Transportation Impact on Alaska
Construction on the North Slope surrounding the Willow Project is projected to take eight to 10 years, with oil production beginning possibly in year six or seven.
In the below image from the Bureau of Land Management’s Willow Master Development Plan Record of Decision, you can see the layout of the site and the infrastructure supporting the project:
The approved project includes construction of a processing facility, an operations center, an airstrip, and three drill sites.
With the specialty equipment ConocoPhillips will be using—including the largest mobile land rig in North America—plus the facilities, gravel roads, pipelines, airstrips, and boat ramps the project requires, Alaska will see an influx of freight to support the project. That includes heavy equipment, as well as construction materials.
Looking Ahead to Alaska’s Future
If you’re interested in learning more about the Willow Project, the BLM website is a great place to start. ConocoPhillips has also set up an info center on their website.
Here at Royal Alaskan Movers, our operations will continue as usual during the Willow Project. If you have any concerns about disruptions or timing for future projects, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.
Additionally, if you’re looking for assistance moving heavy equipment, materials, or other items to Alaska, we’re happy to help. We’ve executed moves of all kinds all over the state. No project is too difficult or too complex for our experienced team. Just get in touch to start a conversation.