The 150 million plus acres are home to thousands of species of birds, fish, and wildlife – nearly 21 million acres of these incredible landscapes are permanently protected from degradation and destruction in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
The US Congress is again considering opening the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. The proposal threatens to violate the internationally recognized human rights to culture, subsistence, health, and religion of the Gwich’in people of northeastern Alaska and northwestern Canada. Since time immemorial, the Gwich’in have relied physically, culturally and spiritually on the Porcupine Caribou Herd that calves each spring on the Coastal Plain.
With Congress back in session, our staff and policy experts have been working full-speed with members of the presidential transition team and with members of Congress to prepare them on steps they can quickly take to right many of the environmental wrongs of the past eight years.
Energy bills that have narrowly passed the House of Representatives (H.R. 4 August 2, 2001; H.R. 6 April 11, 2003, H.R. 6, April, 21 2005) contain language designed to make oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge sound more palatable to the public. One such scam was an amendment claiming development would be confined to a 2,000 acre area. In reality, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling would cause environmental devastation across the entire 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain, the biological heart of the Refuge.
In the push to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development, the big oil companies and their allies in the Congress, Administration, and Alaska state government say drilling on Alaska’s North Slope has been clean and environmentally benign. They profess a commitment to strict environmental regulation, and they assert that new technologies – particularly ice roads and directional drilling – will reduce even further any impact of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Proponents of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge opportunistically and incorrectly point to rising gasoline prices as a reason to drill for oil in one of America’s last wild places. If oil were discovered in commercial quantities, it would take 10 years before a single drop could be produced. Recent U.S. Energy Information Administration data indicates that in 2030, when oil discovered in the Arctic Refuge would be near peak production levels, the effect at the gas pump would be about two pennies per gallon.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge provides vital habitat for some of America’s most spectacular wildlife. Birds, in particular, rely heavily on the Arctic Refuge. When the weather turns warm, the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge becomes a haven for millions of migrating birds, affording them a safe place to feed, mate and nest.
For the first time in two decades, federal wildlife managers will take a look at how they administer the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including the possibility of asking Congress to make 1.5 million acres of the long-disputed coastal plain off limits to oil and gas development by designating it as wilderness.