Oil industry’s allies in Congress set sights on Alaska’s Arctic Refuge
A pro-drilling Congress and presidential administration spell bad news for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Emboldened by Donald Trump’s election, the Republican-controlled Congress has again set its sights on opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. The threat to the refuge’s fragile coastal plain is greater than it has been in more than a decade.
Despite most Americans favoring permanent protection for the Arctic Refuge, the oil industry and its allies in Congress have long fought to open the refuge to drilling. Now, with a pro-drilling president in the White House, and lawmakers from multiple western states pushing for states to take over federal lands, Alaska’s delegation hopes to seize the opportunity to pass legislation that would tap oil reserves in America’s last big, pristine and wild place.
Just after receiving the news of Trump’s victory on election night, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski told a reporter, “Well, as you know, we have been working to advance (the Arctic Refuge) for decades now. … and I am going to look to push that early on,” she said.
“Politically, in Washington, D.C., we have all the right folks in place,” Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioner Andy Mack said in the Los Angeles Times.
Sprawling industrial infrastructure would forever change the refuge
Oil production in the Arctic Refuge would involve sprawling infrastructure for an industry with a dismal record on safety and the environment. Oil companies claim they would need only 2,000 acres but this is intentionally misleading because drilling sites likely would be scattered across the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, greatly magnifying the industrial footprint.
Image by Peter Mather
For half a century, the Arctic Refuge has stood as a symbol of our nation’s public-lands legacy. It is one of our most majestic places, and the home of polar bears, wolves, the vast Porcupine Caribou Herd — which is a critical resource for the Gwich’in people — and nearly 200 species of birds that migrate to six continents and all 50 states.
One of the last great, intact ecosystems
At 19.6 million acres, the Arctic Refuge is one of the finest examples of wilderness left on Earth and among the least affected by human activity. Its wilderness values are timeless and irreplaceable. In 2015, after a thorough scientific analysis and public process, President Obama recommended to Congress that the refuge be permanently protected, and more than a million Americans submitted comments in support of that recommendation.
As the birthing ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the coastal plain — which lies between the Arctic Ocean and the beautiful mountains of the Brooks Range — is the biological heart of the refuge. Sadly, it is the coastal plain that is in the crosshairs of oil companies and their allies in Congress, who would like to sell it off to corporate interests when we’re not looking.
Alaska Native villages in and around the Arctic Refuge depend on the refuge’s caribou and other species to sustain their communities and culture. For many of them, protecting wildlife, clean air and clean water is a matter of human rights.
The Wilderness Society is committed to protecting Alaska’s last great wilderness from this assault. Some places are too special to drill, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of them.
Map: The Arctic Refuge. The refuge’s ecologically-rich coastal plain is shown in purple.