Victory: Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Safe From Drilling, For Now

Victory: Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Safe From Drilling, For Now

In good news for wild animals and the environment, the Biden administration has suspended controversial oil and gas leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The move stops a Trump-era push to open millions of acres of this pristine wilderness to exploitation. While it’s not permanent, it is a huge step toward protecting this unique and fragile ecosystem and all the species who call it home.

As we previously wrote: “This refuge encompasses 18.9 million acres, with eight million acres officially designated as wilderness. It's home to more than 270 species of animals, including musk oxen, gray wolves, grizzly bears, snow geese, arctic foxes, Porcupine caribou, migratory birds from around the world, and Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, who are members of one of the most endangered bear populations in the world. It's also the only place on Earth where polar bears, brown bears, and black bears all live.

The refuge's 1.6 million acre coastal plain, which is considered the heart of the refuge, is one of the last remaining expanses of pure wilderness in the U.S.”

The coastal plain, which is referred to as the “sacred place where life begins” by the Indigenous Gwich’in people, is believed to be sitting on oil and gas reserves that many have been working on getting their hands on for decades. Unfortunately, the Trump administration opened the door to that becoming a very real possibility, and a lease sale took place in January.

The fact that the sale was announced after the last presidential election, within weeks of the transfer of administrations, caused significant controversy. We were part of the outcry, publishing an alert that many of you signed, directed at the Bureau of Land Management. As it turned out, the sale was so transparently corrupt, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge such a sympathetic victim, that even Big Oil felt the need to keep its distance, and the sale was a flop. 

Now, there’s even more hope this refuge will remain untouched. The Department of the Interior has just suspended those leases until it can complete “a comprehensive environmental analysis” of the leasing program.

This suspension does not guarantee drilling will be blocked permanently, but how the lease sales were conducted suggests there is good reason to believe they will not survive closer scrutiny. For the time being, we can breathe a sigh of relief. 

Should the sale go through, animals will die, their families will be displaced, and countless more individuals will have to live in the devastation of human industrial development. It is entirely possible whole species may go extinct. 

Here is to hoping the leases are ultimately found to be invalid and voided. Last month the world’s leading energy agency warned that nations must halt all fossil fuel development and swiftly phase out fossil fuel technologies to avoid the most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis. In addition, renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels. Lastly, and most importantly, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last remaining pristine tracts of wilderness on our planet. If we want to live on a planet with a diversity of species and ecosystems, it is incumbent upon us to save the few remaining places that haven’t been remade in our own image. 

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