Wildlife Refuge or Oilfield?
If we do not stand up for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge right now, we will lose it. Arctic wildlife, like polar bears, the Porcupine caribou, and millions of migratory birds, will have important habitat destroyed by oil and gas drilling. We will lose what is often called “The Crown Jewel of the Refuge System,” one of our country’s last great wild places. And once the Refuge as we know it is gone, it will be gone forever. What was once a pristine, intact landscape, will become a maze of roads, drill pads and pipelines.
How did we get to this point? This fall, when a Senate budget measure instructed the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee to come up with $1 billion, it opened the door for oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This paved the way for tax legislation to also include language opening the refuge to energy development. Senate Energy and National Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) then introduced reconciliation legislation that mandates oil and gas lease sales in the Refuge’s Coastal Plain – already a designated Wilderness area – without also mandating accompanying environmental protections.
In mid-November, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved this legislation and voted it out of committee. That legislation will be included in the overall Senate tax package, which is being voted on this week.
Wildlife Refuge or Oilfield?
The purpose of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to protect and conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants, and this bill would prioritize energy development over those management purposes. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a key piece of the Refuge System, and provides critical habitat for the Porcupine Caribou, muskoxen, polar bears, and many species of migratory waterfowl. No amount of short-term financial gain is worth the long-term irreparable harm that drilling would bring to the Refuge.
Under this legislation, virtually all of the Coastal Plain could be turned over to the oil and gas industry, and with likely very little benefit gained – but much forever lost.
Independent analyses demonstrate that drilling in the Refuge it is unlikely to raise anywhere close to $1.1 billion dollars. Even the Congressional Budget Office has also strongly cautioned that this estimate is only a projection, thanks to regulatory uncertainty, a lack of existing drilling infrastructure, and the high cost of production for any interested companies. The Refuge is not an easy place to drill, thanks to its harsh weather and remote location. There are plenty of existing oil and gas leases open within the National Petroleum Reserve, making the oil and gas industry hesitant about pouring money into such an uncertain venture. Additionally, current oil commodity prices are significantly lower than the cost of extracting oil from the Arctic.
Math projections aside, no amount of short-term financial gain is worth the long-term irreparable harm that drilling could bring to the Refuge.