For Immediate Release
Trump Administration Advances Plan to Sell Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Big Oil
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a draft plan to lease the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil and gas industry. The agency’s environmentally destructive, legally inadequate plan would sell off one of America’s last great wildlands to the highest bidder. The proposal fails to fully analyze the long-term impacts of converting wildlife habitat into an industrial oil field or the contribution of leasing and development to global climate change. The Trump administration’s scheme also declines to identify which of four proposed alternatives it has chosen for leasing the coastal plain, further obfuscating this rushed public planning process.
The refuge leasing plan is the administration’s latest move in a series of reckless actions to accelerate drilling both onshore and offshore in the Arctic, including an environmental assessment (EA) for a proposal from the oil services company, SAExploration Inc., to conduct seismic testing across the entire coastal plain beginning this winter.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:
“The administration’s Arctic Refuge leasing plan ignores science, turns a deaf ear to public opinion, attempts to skirt the law and paper over a disastrous decision that has already been made.
“Driven by its energy dominance agenda, the Trump administration is intent on selling off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Big Oil, regardless of the cost to imperiled polar bears, the Porcupine caribou herd, hundreds of migratory birds and the Gwich’in people, who have depended on the coastal plain for millennia.
“We will see this administration in court soon for its reckless efforts to turn this iconic landscape into an industrial oilfield.”
The Drilling Threat
The BLM is proceeding with a planning process to establish an oil and gas leasing program on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain, with the goal of selling out these wildlands to the highest bidder by the end of 2019. The deadline for public comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement issued today is February 11, 2019.
Legislation that would open the coastal plain to oil and gas development has been defeated for decades as the public pushed their members of Congress to recognize the value of a pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But last December, Congress inserted an unrelated, divisive provision into the tax bill authorizing drilling in the Refuge, circumventing full and fair congressional debate.
The Risks of Oil Exploration and Development
The 1.6 million-acre coastal plain, where exploration, leasing and drilling would occur, is the biological heart of the refuge. Fossil fuel development would permanently alter this vital landscape, turning it into an industrial oil field and threatening the species that depend on it.
The coastal plain is the traditional calving and rearing ground of the spectacular Porcupine caribou herd, which numbers nearly 200,000 animals. The indigenous Gwich’in people of northeastern Alaska and Canada have depended on the herd for their subsistence and cultural identity for millennia. The Gwich’in strongly oppose oil drilling in the coastal plain. They revere this area as “The sacred place where life begins,” due to its importance to the caribou.
Approximately 77 percent of the coastal plain is designated critical habitat for threatened polar bears, which are increasingly coming ashore to den and raise their newborn cubs here due to the climate-driven loss of sea ice. The Southern Beaufort Sea population already numbers as few as 900 individuals, having suffered a 25-50 percent decline from previous estimates. Seismic testing during polar bear denning season could frighten mother bears from their dens, leaving cubs to perish. The 90,000-pound seismic vehicles could even run over dens, crushing bears to death and contributing further to the species decline.
Industrial oil development would turn pristine habitat into a steel spiderweb of pipelines, airstrips, drill rigs, roads, gravel mines, buildings and other infrastructure. Oil spills, leaks, and pollution could irreparably damage refuge ecosystems, upsetting ecological processes and imperiling the iconic and sensitive species that call this special place home.
Why We’re Fighting for the Arctic Refuge
Located in northeast Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge comprises approximately 19.6 million acres of public lands and waters. It provides 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.
Much of the Arctic Refuge was first protected over half a century ago by the Eisenhower administration to preserve its unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended congressional wilderness designation for the Coastal Plain.
Industrializing America’s most iconic national wildlife refuge is extremely controversial. According to 2017 polling, 70 percent of American voters oppose drilling in the 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.