Music Matters
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Alaska Natives, unions and state lawmakers team up to support Willow project

Mandel Ngan
AFP/Getty Images

A large contingent of Alaska leaders has descended on Washington D-C to lobby for the Willow oil and gas Development project, to put pressure on President Biden to approve it.

This comes as the Biden administration is poised to make a record of decision on the $8 Billion prospect, to be developed by ConocoPhillips in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska.

The Alaska group includes leaders from unions, Alaska Native organizations and state lawmakers. They plan to hold a joint news conference with Alaska’s Congressional Delegation on Wednesday afternoon in front of the U.S. Capitol.

As president of the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, which represents about two dozen North Slope organizations, Nagruk Harcharek plans to be there. He says the Willow project is key to the region’s self-determination.

“So that we’re forging that path, and we're not having it forged for us,” Harcharek said, “because without the development, without the economy, we’re relying on the state and federal government for what we can and cannot do.”

The Biden administration has sent out mixed messages about Willow, with the Bureau of Land Management signaling it would approve the project, with limits on drilling -- while the Interior Department has raised concerns about environmental and subsistence impacts.

The proposal is for five drilling pads. ConocoPhillips has said the project would not be viable if it were scaled back to only two. The BLM says it would allow three, with a fourth to be considered later.

Environmental groups have said the drilling would escalate climate change.

Nuiqsut, the North Slope community closest to Willow, has also raised objections. There are worries the development would affect migrating caribou and cause health problems.

On Monday, the Alaska Senate passed a resolution in support of the Willow project. The House approved a similar measure last week. Those resolutions, which passed both bodies unanimously, will be presented to the Alaska Congressional Delegation in a show of support.

Editor’s note: In full disclosure, ConocoPhillips is an underwriter of KNBA.

Rhonda McBride has a long history of working in both television and radio in Alaska, going back to 1988, when she was news director at KYUK, the public radio and TV stations in Bethel, which broadcast in both the English and Yup’ik languages.