Massive Oil Project Poses Risks to People, Birds, and Other Wildlife

The Willow project raises scientific concerns for this important Arctic ecosystem.

Yellow-billed Loon.
Yellow-billed Loon. Photo: Bob Wick

ANCHORAGE, AK (August 23, 2019) – Today, the Bureau of Land Management released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Willow oil development project in Alaska’s Western Arctic—on tracts leased by ConocoPhillips. If approved, the Willow project would be located in the northeastern corner of the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska (NPR-A) near the village of Nuiqsut, a community that has become surrounded by oil development over recent years. The project would also be located just southeast of one of the most ecologically important habitats in the entire Arctic—the Teshekpuk Lake wetlands. Molting geese and nesting Yellow-billed Loons rely on this area as a safe haven during a time when both species are vulnerable.

“The Willow project raises a number of serious issues, including impacts to migrating caribou, anadromous fish, nesting Yellow-billed Loons, and the Indigenous Peoples who call this area home,” said Natalie Dawson, executive director for Audubon Alaska. “It is especially concerning given the ongoing impacts of climate change on the Arctic. Wildfires this summer in the Arctic and around the world underline the urgent need to ramp down fossil fuel development, not permit more.”

The project proposes a large new industrial footprint. At Willow, ConocoPhillips plans to include a plant to process crude oil for delivery in pipelines, an airstrip, a network of roads, a gravel mine, up to 250 wells on five gravel sites called pads, and a temporary island to accept delivery barges traveling across the Beaufort Sea. All of this located next door to local communities and the Teshekpuk Lake wetlands, which contains globally important habitat for Arctic birds and other wildlife.

“A hasty process for this massive development project only glosses over the science and leads to a faulty decision,” Dawson added. “This sensitive Arctic ecosystem deserves more consideration than can possibly be granted by this fast-tracked NEPA process.”

The agency will accept public comments on the Willow oil development project DEIS on its ePlanning website for 45 days once the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Notice of Availability is published in the Federal Register (expected August 30). They will also be holding public meetings and various locations in the project areas as well as in Anchorage and Fairbanks.


About Audubon Alaska

Since 1977, Audubon Alaska's mission is to conserve the spectacular natural ecosystems of the state, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. Audubon Alaska uses science to identify conservation priorities and support conservation actions and policies, with an emphasis on public lands and waters. Audubon Alaska is a state office of the National Audubon Society. Learn more at

Media Contacts

Rebecca Sentner, Communications Manager, Audubon Alaska,, 907.276.7034

Susan Culliney, Policy Director, Audubon Alaska,, 907.276.7034

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