09:51 PM

For Immediate Release

President Trump Moves to Sell Oil Leases in Arctic Refuge in 2019

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – Department of the Interior officials stated today that the administration will initiate planning this month to lease the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. Lease sales could begin as soon as 2019. This timeline would almost certainly require shortcutting or even bypassing environmental review and legal safeguards for public land, water and wildlife.

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark:

“Not only is this administration doing the unconscionable by attempting to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but it is moving forward in the most reckless, irresponsible way. This headlong rush toward leasing is an egregious sellout to the oil industry that would desecrate the irreplaceable wildlife habitat of the Arctic refuge’s coastal plain. Drilling and associated industrial activity would put polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and hundreds of other species that live on the coastal plain at incredible risk, while also threatening the livelihood of the native Gwich’in people, whose culture and way of life depends on these resources. By now, no one should be fooled by the Alaska delegation’s false promises that leasing will follow a robust, lawful public engagement process. Two out of three Americans agree: the Arctic refuge is no place for oil drilling. We will fight this appalling proposal at every turn.”



  • Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, and Interior Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management, Joe Balash, visited Alaska this week, telling residents today that the administration will soon launch the regulatory process to lease the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to the oil industry. They failed to meet with the Gwich’in nation, who call the coastal plain “the sacred place where life begins.”

About the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

  • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge comprises approximately 19.6 million acres of public lands and water in northeastern Alaska.
  • The coastal plain, where drilling would occur, is the biological heart of the refuge. Oil development would irreparably damage this vital landscape. The wilderness and habitat values would be destroyed by an industrial complex, replete with oil spills, leaks and pollution. Pipelines, drill rigs, buildings and other infrastructure accompanied by the noise of industrial development would threaten iconic wildlife and imperil sensitive species that call the refuge home.
  • The coastal plain is the principal calving ground of the nearly 200,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd, relied upon for physical and cultural survival for millennia by the Gwich’in people of northeastern Alaska and Canada. The Gwich’in are strongly opposed to industrial development in the coastal plain.
  • The Arctic refuge contains vital nesting habitat for hundreds of species of migratory birds from all 50 states and six continents; the most important onshore denning habitat for threatened polar bears in the United States; spawning streams for Dolly Varden and other valued fish species; and room to roam for caribou, wolves, muskoxen, Dall sheep, arctic foxes and many other wildlife species.
  • Most of the Arctic refuge’s coastal plain is designated critical habitat for federally threatened polar bears. Mother polar bears with cubs are increasingly denning in this area as annual sea ice melts more quickly due to a warming climate.
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower first set aside much of the refuge in 1960 as the Arctic National Wildlife Range. Congress later affirmed and expanded the refuge in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980. Now about the size of South Carolina, the Arctic refuge preserves one of the largest intact ecosystems in the world. Approximately 40 percent of the refuge, mostly in the Brooks Range, is designated as wilderness to help permanently protect this treasured landscape.
  • Authorization for drilling on the coastal plain was attached to the tax reform reconciliation bill, allowing it to bypass a filibuster in the Senate. This high-profile, divisive provision had nothing to do with tax reform, but allowed Congress to circumvent full and fair debate when enacting it in December.
  • Industrializing America’s greatest national wildlife refuge is extremely controversial. According to polling by the Center for American Progress, two out of three Americans support protecting the Arctic refuge.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.