Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass community protests the Willow project drilling operation

Sunrise Movement demands an end to the fossil fuel harvesting project
Kalina Kornacki/ Daily Collegian (2023)

On the afternoon of Thursday April 6, a demonstration organized by the Sunrise Movement gathered about 100 students to protest in front of the University of Massachusetts Student Union. The group demanded that UMass officially stand against the Willow project, a proposed oil drilling operation in Alaska.

“We are here today because we want to stop further drilling and destruction to our future and our planet’s future,” Brendan Post, a sophomore environmental science major and Sunrise Movement member, told the crowd.

The Sunrise Movement is a national organization, with an Amherst-wide chapter, dedicated to protecting the environment and advocating for climate action. The group last organized an on-campus protest, the UMass Walk Out for Climate, in 2019.

On March 14, President Joe Biden approved the Willow project, a $7 billion oil drilling venture by crude oil producer ConocoPhillips. The project will be located in Alaska’s North Slope borough, within the largest stretch of untouched publicly owned land. An agreement was initially approved by former President Donald Trump in 2021. A federal judge reversed the decision, however, due to inaccurate environmental analysis. It made its way to the Biden administration in 2023.

Post was the main speaker during the protest, in which he told the crowd of the irreversible environmental impacts of the Willow project.

“The vulnerable animal populations — like the caribou, wolves and many migratory bird species, to name a few — the risk of contamination of public waters and land and critical habitats is immense,” Post said. “As well as hurricanes, flash floods, they will only continue to worsen as the global temperature warms. We know this. These gasses emitted by fossil fuels, trapping heat from the sun, make this problem exponentially worse.”

The drilling project will spread over 499 acres, making it the largest operation in Alaska. The wells will produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil daily, 600 million barrels by the end of its’ lifetime. The operation will release an estimated 277 million metric tons of carbon dioxide throughout its 30 years of operation.

The Sunrise Movement had two demands at the strike; for UMass to publicly disapprove of the Willow project and for the United States Army Corps of Engineers to recognize their protest and refuse approval of the project.

“We call on UMass to publicly show it’s disapproval of the Willow Project, let your students know and be educated,” Post said during the strike.

The approval by Biden comes less than a year after he proposed and passed the Inflation Reduction Act that provided$369 billion for climate change initiatives and renewable energy. During the 27th Conference of the Parties — a conference designed to ensure unity between countries on the topic of Climate Change — Biden said “the United States is acting,” on climate change.

“In a time of a climate emergency, we can’t continue to be going back on our word and making the problems exponentially worse,” Post told the crowd.

Many participants at the strike were upset at the contradictions they felt Biden had made in recent years on climate change.

“When I read that Biden was moving [the Willow project] forward, I was tearing up,” Rebecca Rosenbaum, a junior environmental science major, said. “It feels so defeating when someone who’s in power knows it will drastically impact us in a negative way.”

“I think that there’s no reason to have any more oil drilling projects, and I’m frustrated with the Biden administration for going against their word,” Kitty Lovell, a senior civil engineering major, said.

The protesters also demanded that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reject the Willow project. The organization, responsible for reducing the project’s disaster risk, has to give approval for the operation.

“We call on them to blockade and open their eyes to see how horrible fossil fuel usage is for our world,” Post said.

Gabriel Futterman, a senior social thought and political economy major, told the crowd of a new campaign by the UMass Environmental and Social Action Movement (ESAM). The group, of which Futterman is a member, launched the campaign “Kick Climate Criminals off Campus.” This effort is a continuation of the 2016 protests that resulted in the UMass Board of Trustees divesting from fossil fuels.

“Now, we are trying to make [UMass] divest from all the other big banks and insurers that are funding fossil fuels, like Citibank and JPMorgan Chase & Co.,” Futterman said.

The protest continued with a walk towards Worcester Dining Commons and ended back at the Student Union main entrance. “If we are not speaking loud enough, they won’t hear us,” Post said.

“We are unstoppable; a better world is possible!” the protestors said in unison.

Alexandra Hill can be reached at [email protected].

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