08:16 PM

For Immediate Release

Government Memo Reveals Seismic Operations in the Arctic Refuge Will Injure and Kill Polar Bears

Mother Jones reported today on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) memorandum that determined that proposed oil and gas exploration on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would injure and kill denning mother polar bears and their cubs. The coastal plain is the most important onshore denning habitat in the United States for imperiled polar bears, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. According to the document obtained by the journal, the Service estimated that seismic testing could result in the death or injury of approximately 15 polar bears, adversely affecting the small, declining Southern Beaufort Sea population and that efforts to mitigate these impacts would be ineffective.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:

“Oil and gas exploration on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will exponentially increase threats to Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, which are already struggling to survive. We expect the Trump administration to paper over the effects of seismic testing on imperiled polar bears in their rush to drill the Arctic Refuge. But the truth will prevail. We will see this administration in court if it attempts to authorize this egregious, illegal proposal.”


The Risks of Oil Exploration and Development in the Arctic Refuge

  • The coastal plain, where exploration, leasing and drilling would occur, is the biological heart of the Arctic 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.
  • Seismic operations entail crews of people and vehicles driving across the tundra dragging sled camps, building temporary infrastructure, using significant water resources and creating extensive noise, vibration and disturbance. Seismic vehicles would leave deep, lasting scars across the entire coastal plain. The impacts to wildlife and wilderness values would be severe.
  • Oil exploration would occur during polar bear denning season, in critical habitat for the threatened species, which encompasses 77 percent of the coastal plain. The Southern Beaufort Sea population of bears, which already numbers as few as 900 individuals, is increasingly coming ashore to den and raise their newborn cubs here due to the climate driven loss of sea ice. Seismic testing is known to 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 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.
  • The coastal plain is also 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.
  • 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.