07:29 PM

For Immediate Release

Sullivan Hopes to Lease the Arctic Refuge by 2019

Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska wants to see the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge put up for sale in 2019 – two years earlier than mandated by the recent tax bill that ignominiously opened this treasured area to drilling. Speaking at an oil industry conference in Houston, Sullivan reportedly stated, “It’s my hope, and this is a very aggressive timeline, that we would have the first lease sale ... to be sometime in 2019.”

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife’s Director of Federal Lands Peter Nelson:

“We continue to fight any and every attack on the Arctic refuge, including egregious attempts to drill in one of our nation’s most vital landscapes. Sullivan and the Trump administration’s rush to drill completely ignores the hundreds of species, including polar bears, caribou and migratory birds that depend on the Arctic refuge, runs roughshod over conservation laws and curtails public input in the environmental review process. These irresponsible actions will be met with fierce opposition in the courts and from the public.

“Expediting a 2019 lease sale in the Arctic refuge is a non-starter, as any development in these treasured wild lands is totally unacceptable given the social, environmental and cultural values at stake. Alaskans and all Americans need to understand what oil drilling would really mean: the destruction of the coastal plain of 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 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. The coastal plain is also the principal calving ground for the nearly 200,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates hundreds of miles to birth and raise their young in the refuge each year.
  • 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. Adding such a high-profile, divisive provision had nothing to do with tax reform, but allowed Congress to circumvent full and fair debate upon passing it in December.
  • Industrializing America’s greatest national wildlife refuge is extremely controversial. 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.