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U. expert discusses Willow Project's approval, alternative energy options

Last month, the federal government approved the Willow Project, which will allow for the creation of oil pipelines and drilling on public lands in Alaska. – Photo by @genzforchange / Twitter

Last month, the U.S. federal government approved the Willow Project, an oil-drilling proposal from the energy company ConocoPhillips.

The Willow Project is a large-scale oil-drilling venture that will occur over the next 30 years in Alaska. Once complete, it is expected to generate 180,000 barrels of oil per day and would provide the federal government between $8 billion and $17 billion in new income, according to a press release from ConocoPhillips.

Mark Paul, an assistant professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said that President Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s authorization of the Willow Project contradicts his campaign pledges that opposed new oil drilling.

He said that the Willow Project is expected to generate approximately 280 million metric tons of emissions during its 30-year duration.

Paul said the project runs in opposition to the general scientific consensus that controlling the effects of global warming requires a stoppage of new oil extraction.

"There is no safe way to extract new oil, gas or coal," he said. "So a project like Willow really is just adding additional fuel to an already raging fire."

report from the International Energy Agency in May 2021 recommended discontinuing the creation of new oil and gas fields in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

With regard to economic benefits, Paul said two short-term outcomes of the Willow Project are job creation and increased tax revenue in the state of Alaska.

Although the Willow Project plans to create 300 new jobs in Alaska, ConocoPhillips and other oil-drilling companies often employ non-local workers, he said.

"I think it's important to note that, per dollar invested in green energy, green energy actually produces two times as many jobs as does investments in fossil energy," Paul said. "So if we're talking about jobs, we really should be looking to renewables."

He said that the Willow Project and other oil production activities also contribute to significant health hazards, including the death of approximately 250,000 Americans annually as a result of fossil fuel-related air pollution.

On the international level, he said the U.S.'s investment in domestic oil and gas projects will not protect the country from rising energy prices — especially given factors like inflation and foreign conflicts.

Paul said that he believes expanding domestic oil extraction cannot guarantee the U.S. will have energy independence, nor will it safeguard the American economy from the volatility of global markets.

"Renewables, on the other hand, would allow for a true domestic energy sector, where the electricity would be both produced and traded within U.S. borders, thus not only creating far more jobs … (but) will also lead to far more stability in energy prices," he said.

Paul said that the U.S. had invested billions of dollars into the renewable energy industry, but initiatives like the Willow Project impede the country's progress toward an economy that is not reliant on fossil fuels.

"We're going to need to do a lot more moving forward to ensure that we fully decarbonize the country in reaching net zero (emissions) by 2050," he said.

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