Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Threat

An atrocity coming: Proposed 3-D seismic exploration in our Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 

By Lois Norrgard, National Field Organizer, Alaska Wilderness League

Firth River, Arctic NWR (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Bureau of Land Management will soon announce a proposed plan for 3-D seismic exploration across the 1.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, with a public comment period to follow. 

The initial plan is the polar opposite of what drilling proponents promised when drilling language was passed in the tax bill last year. Instead of a small footprint and a careful process, they want to deploy a small army of industrial vehicles and equipment with a mandate to crisscross every square inch of the Arctic Refuge’s biological heart. This scheme will put denning polar bears at risk and leave lasting scars on the fragile tundra and its vegetation, all of this before a single drill rig has been placed or length of pipeline installed. The tracks left in the ground hold water and affect melting. 

The Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain is the biological heart of America’s most iconic wildlife refuge. Birds from all 50 U.S. states raise their young there, alongside other species including caribou, polar bears and muskoxen. The area is considered sacred by the Gwich’in people, who have relied on the Porcupine Caribou Herd for their food, and their culture, for thousands of years. Despite all the evidence that the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain has incomparable value for its wilderness, wildlife and subsistence resources, the plan fails to reference or say it would conduct any scientific study on the impacts. 

In the plan it calls for two massive teams of 150-160 workers, living in mobile camps that would be moved up to two miles every few days throughout the coastal plain by giant sleds, long-haul fuel tractors, fuelers, loaders and trucks. Working continuously in two 12-hour shifts every day from this December through May, these teams would cross the coastal plain in multiple 90,000-pound trucks that would send vibrations into the ground to map out oil and gas resources. That is 10,000 pounds heavier than the 18-wheeler trucks that traverse America’s highways. 

Seismic exploration does not belong in America’s largest and wildest refuge any more than development belongs in Yellowstone Park or the Grand Canyon. Please stay informed about this issue – and watch for the official public comment period to open. We all need to raise our voices against this atrocious idea! For more information email lois@alaskawild.org 

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