Alaska governor's oil exploration plan ignores the value of the Arctic Refuge

May 20, 2013

Despite the majority of Americans opposing development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska's governor wants to begin searching for oil and gas there.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to ask the Alaska Legislature for $50 million to look for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is incompatible with the reasons the refuge was established, and would cause significant harm to a vital and irreplaceable American landscape.

"The purposes for which the refuge was established do not include oil and gas exploration or development,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. “The refuge exists for the  conservation of the landscape’s extraordinary values, including fish and wildlife populations, and habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd, polar bears, grizzly bears other predators, musk oxen, Dall sheep, and migratory birds and fish, among others.

“The refuge was also established to fulfill international treaty obligations, protect water quality, and ensure continued subsistence uses by Alaska Natives.  Seismic exploration typically involves heavy vehicles driving across the tundra in a grid pattern compressing sensitive soil and plants that can require decades to recover.  The governor’s exploration plan would result in extensive adverse impacts to a world-class wilderness area and is incompatible with the purposes for which the refuge was established.”

The coastal plain of the refuge, long a target of the oil industry, is an especially valuable habitat that merits protection as wilderness, Whittington-Evans said.

“The Gwich’in refer to the coastal plain as ‘the place where life begins’ because it is key habitat for calving caribou, a species that is vital to Alaska Natives as a subsistence resource,” she said. “It is also extremely important for polar bears and other coastal species that need undisturbed wilderness for their survival.

“Hearing that Gov. Parnell’s plan would specifically target the coastal plain for oil and gas exploration is especially disappointing, and it defies the will of the American people. The Arctic Refuge has been spared from resource development for decades because Americans have said ‘no.’ Some places are simply to special to drill, and the coastal plain is one of them.”