Though several bills have been introduced that would shield the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas exploration and subsequent drilling, the chances of legislation passing both chambers of Congress, and gaining approval in the White House are slim, not impossible, but slim. H.R. 1784, the “Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act” of 2017, with 64 total co-sponsors, and recently introduced “Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, already with 110 total co-sponsors, are a confirmation to the resoluteness of many Members of Congress reflecting the calls of millions of citizens to stand against drilling in the Arctic.
While we are delighted that many Congressional members are working tooth and nail to protect the refuge, we need to continue fighting oil development in the area any way we can until the coastal plain area is off-limits permanently. One way to help is to contact your Members of Congress asking them to support any and all legislation introduced which would prohibit oil and gas exploration in Area 1002. Equally important is to comment on the EIS Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Programs. Your input must be received by March 13, 2019. A signature on a petition or comment via an organization just isn’t enough.
Below is the first of several letters of objection we will be submitting. Everything you need to craft and send a thoughtful, and unique comment can be found on this page. Please help out.
Dear Ms Hayes,
As U.S. citizens deeply concerned for our environment and diminishing wildlife populations, we are writing to highlight for you the fundamental importance of fully protecting the 1.5-million acre coastal plain area of the ANWR. Like the majority of Americans, we completely oppose oil exploration, development and production in the Arctic Refuge. Such activity would be incompatible with the purposes for which the refuge was established, including “to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity.”
When the original Arctic National Wildlife Range was established in 1960 by the Eisenhower Administration, it was done with the foresight and wisdom to protect an entire ecosystem, both south and north of the Brooks Range, including the rich coastal plain.
Decades of biological study and scientific research within the Arctic Refuge have confirmed that the coastal plain specifically is vital to the biological diversity of the entire refuge. Within the narrow (15-40 miles) coastal plain, there is a unique compression of habitats which concentrates a wide array of wildlife native to the Arctic, including polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, caribou, muskoxen, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, and over 200 species of migratory birds. Area 1002, a delicate ecosystem, is the biological heart of the refuge. Deemed “the sacred place where life begins” by Alaska’s native Gwich’in people, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) possesses massive environmental and cultural importance. The Arctic Refuge coastal plain contains the “greatest wildlife diversity of any protected area above the Arctic Circle” (USFWS).
In 2003, the National Research Council (NRC) published a report on the “Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska’s North Slope.” This report was prepared by a panel of prominent scientists following an extensive review of the literature and consultations with experts. It remains the best, most comprehensive synthesis of the effects of oil development on wildlife and the landscape of Arctic Alaska (1).
Although oilfield technologies continue to improve, the NRC’s findings are still of concern today. Even proposals which would “limit the footprint” of oil development to 2,000 acres on the coastal plain within the Arctic Refuge would have extensive impact, as those acres may be spread over much of the coastal plain. This would be especially true if oil reserves are scattered in multiple pockets across the refuge, as is suggested by the U.S. Geological Survey (2). Since the effects of industrial activities, starting with seismic surveys, are not limited to the footprint of a structure, or to its immediate vicinity, it is inevitable that such activities would adversely affect a wide variety of wildlife in the refuge’s narrow coastal plain.
Furthermore, development of yet another oilfield would further set back efforts to limit the carbon emissions that are fueling the dramatic changes in climate now affecting Alaska.
Despite monitoring systems in place to prevent spills, a leak occurred in a pipe leading to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) that went undetected for several days, spilling 267,000 gallons of crude oil (4). Other spills directly related to land transportation of Alaskan oil include 700,000 gallons spilled when vandals destroyed a section of TAPS in 1978, and 285,000 gallons when a hunter shot the pipeline in 2001. Just as environmental assessments of TAPS have recognized and anticipated that oil spills happen and have consequences for environmental quality (5), the same consideration is necessary when evaluating the environmental impacts of drilling in ANWR.
Even without an oil spill, the process of drilling, and the release of thousands of gallons of polluted water (“drilling muds”) would damage this delicate ecosystem. These muds contain toxins like benzene, zinc, arsenic, radioactive materials, and other contaminants used to lubricate drill bits and maintain pressure. Unfortunately, discharges are unregulated. High concentrations of metals were found around drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. A single oil well discharges around 1,500 – 2,000 tons of waste material (6). Contaminants from oil drilling accumulate on the sea floor; smother organisms and cause malformations, genetic damage, and mortality in fish embryos.
The Arctic is one of our last and greatest unspoiled wild places. No oil company has ever successfully drilled for oil in the pristine, wildlife-filled public waters of the Arctic Ocean despite an expensive and near catastrophic attempt by Shell Oil to explore for oil there in 2012, when a Shell drilling rig ran aground in a storm. Drilling here would threaten one of our planet’s most fragile, and remote ecosystems.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this extremely important matter,
August E. Allen
In the Shadow of the Wolf
4. Barringer, F., 2006. Large oil spill in Alaska went undetected for days. The New York Times, March 15.
5. Bureau of Land Management, 2002. Final environmental impact statement: renewal of the federal grant for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System Right-of-Way. Report BLM/AK/PT-03/005+2880+990.
6. Patin, Stanislav. Waste discharges during the offshore oil and gas activity. http://www.offshore-environment.com/discharges.html
Feature image by Daniel Hernanz Ramos
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