Parnell’s oil exploration plan ignores the value of the Arctic Refuge

Jul 9, 2013

The Native Gwich'in people call the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge "the place where life begins."


Gov. Sean Parnell today repeated his plan to ask the Alaska Legislature for $50 million for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a strategy that fails to acknowledge the reasons the refuge was established, and that would cause irreparable harm to a fragile and irreplaceable American landscape.

"Gov. Parnell and other supporters of the oil industry keep turning a blind eye to the fact that the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is closed to oil and gas exploration and development, and they ignore the history of the Arctic Refuge and what it exists to protect,”  said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. “It was established 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.

“Drilling on the coastal plain of the refuge would not lower gasoline prices, but it would permanently diminish one of the last great wilderness landscapes in the world.  Instead, this portion of our nation’s heritage should be protected for future generations.”

In response to Parnell making the same offer in a May 18 letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the head of that agency, Secretary Sally Jewell, sent Parnell a letter reiterating the Obama administration’s opposition to drilling in the refuge and stated that the governor’s proposed seismic testing is prohibited by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

“Originally set aside by President Dwight Eisenhower to preserve its unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values,” Jewell wrote, “the Refuge is a vast, intact ecosystem and continued protection of this ecologically important area is taken very seriously by the Service.”

Parnell’s pledge to ask the Alaska Legislature to pony up $50 million for seismic testing on the coastal plain is no guarantee that any state money will be forthcoming. The state just granted major tax cuts for the oil industry, which will result in substantial revenue losses. And the state’s primary economic think tank – the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute for Social and Economic Research – recently said that General Fund expenditures in Fiscal Year 2013 were 38 percent too high. Additionally, with the federal sequester in place, matching spending at the federal level is highly unlikely, given the discretionary and controversial nature of this proposal.