What’s happening in the Arctic Preserve?

Trump administration opens wildlife refuge to oil leases


Jan Reurink

Canning River, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic, home to birds, polar bears, and migrating caribou, may now be an oil drilling site. After three years of finalizing plans, the Trump administration opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil leases, scrambling to do so before Joe Biden takes office. In the end, leases lacked any public interest because of the effect it would have on our planet; over half of the land up for lease got no offers. Only two small companies took up leases, with the rest of the leases going to the state of Alaska.
Though the arctic has an abundance of oil, there is huge opposition to drill due to environmental concerns. There are ongoing lawsuits filed by environmental groups to fight the start of drilling. Some of the many lawsuits were filed by the National Audubon Society, Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Friends of the Earth. One important suit was filed by the Gwich’in Steering Committee, a voice for indigenous traditional hunting communities. The Gwich’in people respect the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain because it is an essential place in which they hunt for food and host cultural traditions. Overall, the drilling comes at a time of rising concerns about the climate crisis.

Trump’s administration selected to have the land be handed over to the fossil fuel industry, ignoring the irreversible harm that will be done to one of the world’s most significant wildlife habitats. The final Environmental Impact Statement even acknowledged that some bird species might go extinct. President-elect Joe Biden says that he “opposes” drilling in the arctic, but it is not clear what he will do about it. Luckily for the polar bears, none of the top oil companies in Alaska submitted bids, many major banks refused to finance projects in the Arctic, and the Trump Administration’s total revenue from this endeavour fell far short of what Trump had initially hoped for.