11:04 PM

For Immediate Release

Defenders Condemns Reckless Push for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Drilling


WASHINGTON (June 19, 2018) – An oil and gas leasing program on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska will jeopardize sensitive species, irreparably damage public lands and compound harmful effects from climate change, wrote Defenders of Wildlife’s President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

As former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration, Rappaport Clark described the negative impacts from oil and gas exploration and drilling on wildlife, habitat and other refuge purposes, and reminded the Secretary of his many obligations under law to conserve these resources. 

Congress opened the refuge to potential development in tax legislation enacted last December, instigating this planning effort. Today marks the close of the scoping comment period for the planning process. Nearly 30,000 Defenders members and supporters joined the organization in opposing rushed and reckless oil and gas development in the refuge. 

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

Defenders strongly opposes shortsighted, destructive, needless fossil fuel development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Department’s rushed planning process for an oil and gas program must follow all applicable laws protecting wildlife, habitat and other values in the Arctic Refuge, even if those protections preclude commercially viable development. A refuge is a place for wildlife, not oil rigs.” 


The Drilling Threat 

  • Authorization for drilling on the coastal plain was inserted into the tax reform reconciliation bill last year, 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.

  • The Trump administration issued a Notice of Intent to initiate scoping for an environmental impact statement to lease the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling in April. The 60-day public comment period for the proposal ended on June 19, 2018. More than 685,000 Americans submitted public comments on the current planning process opposing drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

Why We’re Fighting for the Arctic Refuge 

  • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge comprises approximately 19.6 million acres of public lands and water in northeastern Alaska.

  • The coastal plain, where exploration and drilling would occur, is the biological heart of the refuge. Oil development would irreparably damage the wilderness and habitat values of this vital landscape. Pipelines, drill rigs, buildings and other infrastructure accompanied by inevitable oil spills, leaks, and noise from 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 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 cultural and physical sustenance for millennia. The Gwich’in revere the coastal plain as “the sacred place where life begins” due to its importance to the caribou and are strongly opposed to oil drilling.

  • The Arctic refuge 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.

  • Most of the Arctic refuge’s coastal plain is designated critical habitat for federally protected 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 reserved much of the refuge as the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960. 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.

  • Industrializing America’s greatest national wildlife refuge is extremely controversial. According to polling by Yale University, two out of three American voters 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.