Alaska

Oil Drilling: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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Oil Drilling: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
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Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society

America’s wildest place on the edge of destruction

It's no wonder that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is called the crown jewel of our refuge system. The Arctic Refuge is the only refuge where you’ll find the spectacle of polar bears denning and massive migrations of caribou thundering through the land each year.

This vast refuge of coastal lands, boreal forests and alpine tundra supports an exceptional array of wildlife from musk oxen and Arctic fox to all three types of North American bear species and hundreds of bird species. It is one of the finest examples of large, intact wilderness left on Earth.

Such an exceptional wild place cannot sustain human activity on an industrial scale, and yet the refuge is threatened by oil and gas development. If fossil fuel interests succeed, one our wildest places will be lost forever.

Why this place matters

The refuge is one of the world’s last untrammeled wild places. The health of Arctic species like polar bears and caribou depends on the refuge staying wild and intact.

America's Serengeti
More than 270 species thrive here, including polar bears, caribou and musk oxen.
197,000+ caribou
The Porcupine caribou herd uses the refuge’s coastal plain for its annual calving grounds.
The Gwich’in people
Changes to the refuge’s Porcupine caribou herd could stress the Gwich’in people who rely on caribou for subsistence.
Key polar bear habitat
Some of the most important denning habitat for polar bears in the Alaskan Arctic exists here.

The threat

For decades, oil and gas interests and their friends in Congress have fought to open the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas development. In 2017, they gained significant ground. That year, Congress passed a backdoor provision that allowed the Trump administration to begin the process for leasing vulnerable refuge lands to oil companies.

The Arctic Refuge is now facing a pivotal moment. Oil companies are making plans to conduct damaging seismic testing in the refuge. Meanwhile the government is fast-tracking required environmental reviews.

Oil development would bring roads, airstrips, heavy machinery and noise and pollution. This would damage the refuge’s fragile tundra ecosystem and disrupt age-old migration and denning patterns for caribou, polar bear and other animals.

While the threat to the refuge is higher than ever, the fight is not over. We have made great strides building conservation champions in Congress who aim to counteract the latest threats. Many of them wish to permanently protect the refuge through legislation.

What we're doing

  1. Going to court

    While Congress has been busy greasing the wheels for drilling, the Trump administration has taken illegal actions to fast-track required environmental reviews. We’re challenging these wrongful attempts in court.

  2. Applying corporate pressure

    Should the government get away with fast-tracking the steps for drilling, an important arm of our defense is to pressure oil and gas companies not to develop in the Arctic Refuge.

  3. Advocating for permanent protections

    We’re advancing national legislation to designate the refuge as federally protected wilderness, the government’s highest form of land protection. This will end the threat of drilling once and for all.

What you can do
Urge your Congress members to fight for the Arctic Refuge. Sign up for our WildAlert emails and texts to make your voice heard.
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