The Arctic Refuge is once again threatened by Congress members who are pressing to open its pristine lands to oil and gas drilling. With Trump in office, there is little hope that a pro-drilling bill would be vetoed. The threat is higher than ever.
With Donald Trump’s election and a Republican-controlled Congress, the oil industry and its allies in Washington, D.C., have renewed their efforts to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. The threat to the Arctic Refuge’s fragile coastal plain is greater than ever.
Most Americans oppose drilling in the Arctic Refuge but, with a pro-drilling president in the White House Alaska’s congressional delegation hopes to pass legislation that would tap oil reserves in America’s last big, pristine and wild place.
The Arctic Refuge: America's last wild frontier at risk
Just after receiving the news of Trump's victory on election night, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, a leading proponent of drilling in the Arctic Refuge, was already vowing to push for opening the refuge.
America's largest wildlife refuge, The Arctic Refuge spreads over the northern coast of Alaska. It is one of the wildest places left in the United States as well as one of the finest examples of wilderness left on Earth.
Due to its intact ecosystem, one that has been unaffected by human activity, the refuge is home to an epic array of animals. This includes all three North American bear species--polar, brown (grizzly) and black bears, as well as a wolves, Arctic fox, musk oxen, dall sheep and the vast Porcupine Caribou Herd. The refuge also gives life to another 200 species of birds that migrate to six continents and all 50 states.
Its wilderness values are timeless and irreplaceable. It is so wild that in 2015, President Barack Obama recommended that the refuge's protections be further expanded through a wilderness designation.
As the birthing ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the coastal plain—which lies between the stunning Brooks Range and the Arctic Ocean, is the biological heart of the refuge. Local villages depend on the caribou and other species to sustain their communities and cultures. For the Gwich’in people, preservation of the Arctic Refuge is a matter of human rights.
How to help
Please urge your senators to oppose any executive or congressional action that would open the Arctic Refuge to drilling.
Map: The Arctic Refuge sits in Northeast Alaska. The ecologically rich coastal plain (shown in purple) is most at risk to oil drilling proposals.
The Arctic Refuge is known for its thundering migrations of the Porcupine Caribou herd, which has 180,000 members. Image by Peter Mather.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the only places in America where polar bears live. Image by Hugh Rose.
Sprawling infrastructure, damaged habitats
Despite its beauty and wilderness values—and its importance to Alaska Native communities—pro-drilling members of Congress would like to sell off the Arctic Refuge to corporate interests.
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.
The industrial infrastructure would likely disrupt caribou travel patterns movement and threaten their birthing ground. Oil spills and other pollution would threaten the clean air and water on which wildlife and human communities depend.
The Wilderness Society has fought for decades to protect this special place from oil development, especially the Arctic coastal plain. For more than thirty years we have held the line against campaigns by the oil and gas industry. But more than ever we need American's to get involved in defending this precious place.
Roads, infrastructure and noise could interfere with important travel patterns for caribou in the Arctic Refuge. Image by Peter Mather
Industrialization in Alaska's Arctic
Oil and gas development has already scarred Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay area—to the west of the Arctic Refuge—with drilling pads, pipelines and gravel roads.
The footprint of drilling continues to spread as the oil and gas industry strives to extract every last possible barrel of oil.
The once wild character of the Prudhoe Bay area remains forever changed, but the Arctic Refuge can be saved. We do not have to sacrifice this magnificent wild place for a limited amount of oil.
Unlike other parts of Alaska's North Slope, the Arctic Refuge has remained unspoiled. Opening its lands to the sights, sounds and smells of industrial development would forever change its natural character. Here are just a few of the negative effects:
- Lands and waters: Both would be at risk for spills of oil and toxic industrial chemicals.
- Wildlife: Migration, calving and denning patterns of caribou, bears and other wildlife would be disrupted by roads, infrastructure and industrial sounds.
- Native communities: The well being of Alaska Native communities would be diminished as hunting for caribou and other sources of food would become more difficult.
- Ecosystems: The coastal plain's fragile tundra ecosystem would suffer lasting harm from oil trucks and oil infrastructure.
- Climate change: Alaska's Arctic is already experiencing severe impacts from climate change. Drilling would add even more pollutants into the atmosphere, exacerbating the problems.
- An unspoiled frontier: The overall wild beauty of this last wild frontier would be sullied by pollution and the sights and sounds of industrial oil drilling.
Image (right): Will the Arctic Refuge be spared from the same fate as nearby Prudhoe Bay. Image: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Building momentum for Arctic protections
The only thing that will truly offer lasting protections for the Arctic Refuge is a wilderness designation, America's highest form of land protection. Only Congress can make such a designation.
In 2015, our supporters sent more than 600,000 public comments in support of a wilderness designation for the refuge, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended the coastal plain and other parts of the refuge be designated as wilderness. President Obama even began urging Congress to act. In late 2015, the U.S. Senate saw a record number of its members co-sponsor an Arctic Refuge wilderness bill, which was a companion bill to the House version that had been introduced months earlier. While these bills did not get to a final vote, the support for them shows that there are members of Congress willing to fight for the Arctic Refuge. That is why it's critical that we build a groundswell of support for Congress to see.