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Rule Updates Inadequate Oil and Gas Drilling Regulations on National Wildlife Refuges


Media contact: Jennifer Witherspoon, (202) 772-0269 or jwitherspoon@defenders.org


Rule Updates Inadequate Oil and Gas Drilling Regulations on National Wildlife Refuges

WASHINGTON (November 10, 2016) – Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a vital new rule for managing non-federal oil and gas development on the National Wildlife Refuge System. The rule updates inadequate and antiquated 50-year-old regulations to facilitate responsible oil and gas operations on refuges, while conserving wildlife and ecosystems, enhancing public enjoyment of refuge resources and reducing the costs of oil-spill clean-up for American taxpayers.

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

“The old rule was outdated and insufficient for ensuring that America’s wildlife are protected on national wildlife refuges across the country. We commend the Service for issuing common-sense measures for oil and gas development on the National Wildlife Refuge System that conserves sensitive species and their habitat, and requires responsible parties to pay for restoration and reclamation on developed sites.

“We’re disappointed that important provisions in the rule do not apply to existing oil development on refuges and that the regulation will only be ‘advisory’ for refuges in Alaska.”


The National Wildlife Refuge System is the only network of federal lands dedicated specifically to wildlife conservation—and the largest system of its kind in the world. President Teddy Roosevelt established the first refuge in 1903 to protect birds from market hunting on a small island in Florida. The system has since grown to more than 560 refuges, covering hundreds of millions of acres of land and waters in all 50 states, every U.S. territory and the western Pacific Ocean, providing essential habitat for America’s astounding diversity of wildlife. In addition to serving a vital role in conservation, the National Wildlife Refuge System supports innumerable recreational opportunities and generates billions of dollars in local, sustainable economic activity. The FWS manages 16 national wildlife refuges in Alaska, totaling 76,774,229 acres.

Oil and Gas Extraction in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Private individuals and other entities retain ownership of subsurface minerals under many FWS lands, including national wildlife refuges, and have the legal right to develop these resources.

More than 100 refuges have oil and gas operations, including almost 1,700 wells actively producing oil and gas, and thousands more inactive or plugged wells.

Abandoned pump jacks, tanks, power lines, oilfield trash and debris litter approximately 15 percent of refuges nationwide. Oilfield equipment, construction materials and debris abandoned when wells cease producing conflict with the purpose of refuges and the expectations of refuge visitors to experience natural habitat. Derelict oilfield equipment not only is an eyesore, it presents a potential hazard to wildlife Service employees and the public. In some instances, operators have responded to spills and leaks in ways that caused additional harm and failed to remediate all of the impacts to the surrounding area. The final rule will require oil and gas operators to immediately report spills, respond to them with oversight by the Service, and conduct restoration under Service-approved plans.

According to FWS, the revised regulations will reduce refuge impacts, including habitat loss and degradation, wildlife mortality and displacement, and other risks to ecological integrity. The revisions will avoid or minimize the adverse effects on natural and cultural resources and wildlife-dependent recreation associated with oil and gas development activities.

FWS’s Revised Rule

The final rule is being published concurrently with the record of decision as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Both will publish in the Federal Register on November 14, 2016; the final rule will become effective on December 14, 2016. More information, including the final environmental impact statement, is available at http://www.fws.gov/refuges/oil-and-gas/.




Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 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 www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.