On September 6, 2023, the Biden administration made an announcement to cancel remaining oil and gas leases on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a proposal to protect over 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge sits in Alaska’s North Slope with the Canning River and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to its left and the Canadian border to its right. The heart of the Refuge, the Coastal Plain, is nestled between the iconic Brooks Range and the Beaufort Sea. Thousands of bird species migrate through this landscape where ancient muskoxen roam, polar bears den, and hundreds of thousands of Porcupine caribou return to calve their young each year. The Gwich’in people rely on the Porcupine caribou for their subsistence way of life and consider the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as “the sacred place where life begins.”
In January 2021, the Trump administration sold $14.4 million worth of leases to three small companies hoping to strike oil on the Coastal Plain. This was a fraction of the $2 billion promised from the sale, and an indication that drilling in the Refuge is both an ethical and political gamble that no major bank was willing to take. The Department of the Interior is now revoking the previous leases based on legal errors found with the initial sale, proposing a ban on drilling for another 10.6 million acres inside the National Petroleum Reserve, and limiting drilling for another 2.6 million acres. The proposal will designate the 13.2 million acres as “special areas” and will look to define the type of protections this landscape will receive.
The Conservation Alliance has provided nearly one million dollars in grants to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge since 2005, making it the most funded project in TCA’s history. Grantees have included Alaska Wilderness League, Gwich’in Steering Committee, Audubon Alaska, Trustees for Alaska, and the Alaska Conservation Foundation.
The campaign to protect the Arctic was one of TCA’s first priority campaigns in 2017, and one of the first multi-year grants in 2020. The campaign has been highlighted through multiple TCA events, including member breakfasts, grant ballots, and DC Fly-ins. Through strong engagement, our members have demonstrated that this is one of the most critical campaigns that TCA has supported.