Social media driving debate over Alaska oil-drilling project

The Biden administration has a decision to make in Alaska: Will a massive oil-drilling project from ConocoPhillips be greenlit, or will they side-wide the growing online activism movement that is urging him to stop the project?

The Willow Project is part of a new oil discovery on Alaska’s North Slope. It may well be the first of many battles over drilling.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 3 million people have signed a petition calling on the White House to "say no to the Willow Project."

The explosion in attention is, in part, due to content creators. This week, the #StopWillow hashtag amassed more than 50 million views. It was trending along with celebrity news, an unlikely position for a debate about climate change, and oil.

"I’d call it a turning point for this political arena," said Alex Haraus, a content creator who has been drawing millions of views on his education TikToks about the project.

"For me, I’m most passionate about it because I know the town doesn’t want the project to go through," he said. "They sent a letter to the Secretary of Interior over the weekend. Of course, there’s a personal concern of my future – not only the Willow Project – but the many projects it’s a gateway for."

The Willow Project, as Haraus alludes, is just one of several recent oil discoveries in the region.

Scott Montgomery, an affiliate faculty member of UW’s Jackson School of International Studies, told FOX 13 that the energy transition is going through a fascinating change. At a time more and more people want to move away from fossil fuels, more discoveries are being made near the U.S.

"We are possibly just seeing the beginning of an exploration trend that may continue into the future if oil prices remain high," said Montgomery. "This is a very interesting time."

According to Montgomery, the Russia-Ukraine war added pressure on the U.S. supply chain to send more oil to Europe – if you look ever further back, the past several years, he said America is becoming a challenger to OPEC at the same time the Biden administration had called to stop new drilling.

While that may be bad news for climate activists, it doesn’t mean the Willow Project is a slam dunk for Alaskan politicians that are pushing for oil expansion.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and other legislators say the expansion of drilling in the region guarantees jobs. Meanwhile, Alaska Native groups seem to be split – a coalition of groups are supporting a new source of revenue, while others who live closer to the planned project have warned of environmental impacts.

"We’re preparing for them to deny this," said Gov. Dunleavy during a Tuesday interview on "Cavuto: Coast to Coast" on Fox Business.

According to the governor, he’s being told the White House will float a compromise.

"Their idea of a compromise, apparently, is to allow only two drilling pads for this oil play called Willow, about 180,000 barrels per day at peak, instead of the three or more that really the investors, ConocoPhillips, need to make this thing work for everybody."