MEMO: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 2017 Timeline

Sep 27, 2017

Generations of Americans have opposed—and continue to oppose—drilling in the Arctic Refuge. We have a moral obligation to protect it for our children and grandchildren.


November 8, 2016: Donald Trump wins presidential election. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says that with Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, one of her first efforts will be a push to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling

March 8, 2017: Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan meet with Trump and discuss a number of items, including a map detailing oil and gas production on Alaska’s North Slope.

May 23: President Trump makes his intentions clear by releasing a budget request that details projected deficit reductions from federal oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Refuge.

May 31: In a move that Newsweek describes as “another climate change bomb,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke wraps up a tour of Alaska’s North Slope by visiting Anchorage and signs a secretarial order directing federal officials to update resource assessments for areas of the North Slope, including the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.

June 19: Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline Flow: Doing Just Fine After 40 Years negates the claim that the Arctic Refuge’s fragile coastal plain and other federally protected areas in the Arctic must produce oil to keep the trans-Alaska oil pipeline operating.

June 28: Gov. Bill Walker meets with Trump to discuss “energy opportunities” in Alaska and speeding up the process of issuing permits for drilling on federal land. Walker thanks the president for “recognizing the crucial role Alaska can play in achieving American energy dominance.”

July 18: Republicans on the House Budget Committee release a blueprint that asks the Natural Resources Committee to pass legislation to reduce the government’s deficit by $5 billion over 10 years. Democrats and conservation groups decry the plan as a veiled attempt to force drilling in the Arctic Refuge because that amount matches estimates of fees and royalties from oil development in the refuge.

July 19: The Washington Post reports on how the federal budget process is being hijacked by congressional Republicans to force drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

July 20: Trump nominates Joseph Balash to be Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management.  Balash had most recently served as Sen. Dan Sullivan’s chief of staff and was formerly commissioner of Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Sullivan is also a previous commissioner of that department.

July 24: U.S. Senate confirms David Bernhardt as deputy secretary of the Interior Department. According to documents released in May by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Bernhardt in 2001 was involved in the doctoring of scientific findings about effects of oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when he worked in the office of then-Secretary of Interior Gale Norton. Bernhardt also served as a lawyer for the state of Alaska when it sued the Obama administration in 2014 over its decision against exploration in the coastal plain.

September 8: E&E News reports the state of Alaska will likely ask the Trump administration to allow advanced 3-D seismic studies on the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic refuge.  

September 15: The Washington Post reports on a leaked Aug. 11 memo in which U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acting director James W. Kurth instructed that agency’s Alaska regional director to remove calendar restraints from a rule that allowed exploratory drilling in the refuge only during the period between Oct. 1, 1984, and May 31, 1986. (More information available here.)

September 20: At a conference in Anchorage, the Interior Department’s Counselor for Energy Policy, Vincent DeVito, tells a gathering of ocean researchers that kick-starting oil development in the Arctic Refuge is a priority for the Trump administration.


Additional Resources:

Q&A on Trump administration efforts to open Arctic Refuge to oil exploration

“Too Wild to Drill” report from The Wilderness Society

Federal judge rejects Parnell-era push to open Arctic Refuge for exploration