Alaska leaders fly to D.C. to press for Willow project

Rep. Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiaġvik, was among the Alaska Native leaders at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday to urge approve of the Willow oil drilling project. (Screen shot from livestream)

The Biden administration is expected to announce soon whether it will approve the ConocoPhillips permit for Willow, a major oil drilling project in the National Petroleum Reserve. 

Rallying for the project at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, Alaska Native leaders stood with the state’s congressional delegation and union representatives. They wore “Willow Yes” lapel stickers.

State Rep. Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiaġvik, said revenues from the oil production will support rural communities and buy the fuel that makes subsistence whaling and hunting possible.

“When we talk about environmental justice and protecting the environment, us Alaska Natives, we’re part of that environment. We always have been and we always will be,” he said, at a press conference outside the Senate. “And that’s why it’s important to underscore the opportunities for a better quality of life, staying away from the third-world conditions that the generation immediately before me grew up in.”

Over its 30-year lifespan, Willow is projected to produce as much as $10 billion in revenue for the state and the North Slope Borough. 

Alaska Congresswoman Mary Peltola said the administration should listen to her constituents, particularly the consensus opinion of the Inupiaq people of the Arctic.

“This is their region. This is their land,” she said. “This is about their sovereignty and their autonomy to go forward with their economic development, which will help the state of Alaska. It will help residents across our state.”

Environmental groups say approving the Willow project would be the wrong move for an administration committed to slowing climate change and moving to an economy based on renewable energy. 

A decision could come as early as next week.

RELATED: What’s the Willow project? An explainer on the battle over the major Alaska oil proposal

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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