05:53 PM

For Immediate Release

Trump Administration Pushes Forward on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Drilling

The Trump administration has announced a planning process to allow for oil exploration, leasing and related development activities on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, just a day before the eighth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The publicly stated timeline to sell refuge leases to the oil industry–as soon as early 2019 – is even faster than Congress required in its deeply unpopular legislative authorization for drilling. Oil exploration and development would jeopardize wildlife and Alaska native subsistence rights and contribute to global climate change.

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

“It is shameful that on the anniversary of our nation’s worst environmental disaster, the Trump administration announces plans to open pristine wild lands to more destructive oil drilling. The Trump administration’s reckless dash to expedite drilling and destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will only hasten a trip to the courthouse. We will not stand by and watch them desecrate this fragile landscape.

“Drilling would threaten hundreds of species that depend on the coastal plain for survival, including the federally protected polar bear. It would violate the human rights of the Gwich’in people, and further exacerbate the impacts of climate change. A spiderweb of pipelines, roads, well pads, gravel mines and other drilling infrastructure would turn this global treasure into a polluted industrial complex.

“The Arctic Refuge is a place of stunning beauty and incredible and irreplaceable wildlife conservation value. A hurried and inadequate environmental review process cannot hide the damage that exploration and leasing will cause to these vital wildlands or quell the public outcry against drilling rigs on our most iconic national wildlife refuge.”



  • The Trump administration issued a Notice of Intent to initiate scoping for an Environmental Impact Statement to explore and lease the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling. The 60-day public comment period for the proposal ends on June 19, 2018.
  • When Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Interior Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management Joe Balash visited Alaska during the week of March 5 to announce the then forthcoming regulatory process for Arctic Refuge leasing, they failed to meet with the Gwich’in nation, who call the coastal plain “the sacred place where life begins.” The coastal plain is the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd, on which the Gwich’in have depended since time immemorial.

About 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 coastal plain is the principal calving ground of the nearly 200,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd, relied upon for physical and cultural survival for millennia by the Gwich’in people of northeastern Alaska and Canada. The Gwich’in are strongly opposed to industrial development in the coastal plain.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • Industrializing America’s greatest national wildlife refuge is extremely controversial. According to polling by the Center for American Progress, 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.