Science | August 22, 2020 4:29 pm

Are These the Last Days of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge As We Know It?

Parts of the refuge are set to be opened for drilling

Arctic Wildlife Refuge
Some of the nation's most vital lands are at risk.
Jan Reurink/Creative Commons

Encompassing almost 20 million acres in Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was first established in 1960, and has remained a pristine environment for the diverse species that call it home. The Fish & Wildlife Service’s page for the refuge cites a quartet of guiding principles for it: “to conserve animals and plants in their natural diversity, ensure a place for hunting and gathering activities, protect water quality and quantity, and fulfill international wildlife treaty obligations.”

All of those goals are eminently laudable. But in recent years, this stunning area of land has come under an existential threat, and it’s left many concerned for its future. (It’s not the only beloved section of Alaska currently in danger.) In a new article at The Guardian, Oliver Milman surveys the current concerns over the refuge.

The reason for the concern is simple: the Trump administration recently opened the ANWR to oil and gas drilling. Leases are set to be given out by the end of the year. While it’s not clear how much damage this will do, the fact that the process has begun at all is alarming.

The Guardian highlights the frustration of the Gwichʼin people, for whom the land is sacred and who have worked to stop the potential of drilling in the past. The article helps to summarize why the idea of drilling is so worrisome:

The interior department states that only 1% of the coastal plain will be taken up by oil and gas drilling infrastructure, although this figure typically doesn’t include pipelines and other associated disruptions. The upheaval, the Gwichʼin fear, will spell doom for the caribou herd they depend upon.

The infrastructure required for the drilling could have a major impact on its own, as could the effects to the local environment. It’s an alarming scenario to predict for a host of reasons.

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