Climate change is poised to thaw and undermine the soil beneath ConocoPhillips’ proposed Willow oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, making its rigs and roads vulnerable to the same global warming the project will be aggravating.
The project will be so vulnerable to climate change that ConocoPhillips plans to use chillers to keep the Arctic tundra frozen beneath its roads and oil drilling pads, according to the Bureau of Land Management’s environmental review of the plan published Thursday.
“Where necessary we use cooling devices (thermosyphons) that can chill the ground enough in the winter to help it remain frozen through the summer,” ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said.
The Willow oil project, slated to be built over 30 years on Alaska’s North Slope, is vulnerable to a rapidly warming Arctic because it will depend on ice roads, ice bridges, and frozen permafrost that forms the foundation of its infrastructure.
But the region will warm by an average of 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the life of the project, rapidly thawing the frozen Arctic tundra around the drilling rigs, and shortening the winter season during which ice roads and bridges will remain frozen, the land bureau said.
The land bureau’s analysis says the company plans to adapt its project to melting Arctic conditions by building thickly dug gravel roads and drilling pads to offset damage from thawing and shifting permafrost.