Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA

Oil drilling and extraction threaten the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge comprising 19, 000,000 acres in the north Alaskan coast. Caribou and other wildlife is threatened , as also the local populations.


By 2019, the fate of the ANWR was in doubt because President Trump’s administration was keen to start selling leases for oil extraction to big oil companies such as Exxon and others. A much disputed EIS (environmental impact statement) has been issues, many opponents has sent negative comments. “Commenters raised concerns about oil and gas development’s impacts to wildlife, including the destruction of polar bear dens and the nesting grounds of more than 200 migratory birds. Comments also took issue with the analysis of drilling’s impacts to the Porcupine caribou, which some Alaska Native people—such as the Gwich’in and Iñupiat—depend on as a critical food and cultural resource. In addition, various comments expressed concerns about the greenhouse gas emissions that would come from the project. From outside the US,  the Inuvialuit Game Council—a Canadian council representing the Inuvialuit peoples’ wildlife and habitat interests—and several Canadian advisory councils and committees commented that the draft EIS “fails to fulfill the United States’ EIS obligations under both US domestic law and under international law and fails to recognize the transboundary nature of the Arctic Coastal Plain.” The group highlighted the potential impact that a lease sale would have on Canada and criticized the draft EIS for lacking the quantitative data and analyses necessary to consider drilling in the Arctic Refuge. In addition, the Gwich’in Steering Committee—formed in 1988 to represent the interests of the Gwich’in, including the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd and its habitat—along with 152 advocacy organizations across 33 states, submitted comments in opposition to the BLM’s “deficient” draft EIS.” (1),

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Basic Data
NameOil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA
CountryUnited States of America
SiteArctic National Wildlife Refuge
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific CommoditiesCrude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe US Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that ANWR's 10-02 could produce up to 1.5 million barrels day at full capacity after roughly a 10 year ramp-up of development.' (http://www.anwr.org/Background/ANWR-Oil-%E2%80%93-Politics-and-Logistics.php)

Nearly 1 million barrels of oil a day are produced from the existing oil fields in areas west of the Arctic Refuge, and new wells are brought into production each year. Americans use 19 million barrels of oil each day, or 7 billion barrels of oil per year. There is, therefore, a 50% chance of finding a 9 month's supply of oil in the 1002 Area, at $24 per barrel. (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/arctic/issues1.htm)

Water needed for oil development ranges from eight to 15 million gallons over a 5-month period, according to the Bureau of Land Management. If water is not available to build ice roads, gravel is generally used. Water resources are limited in the 1002 Area. In winter, only about nine million gallons of liquid water may be available in the entire 1002 Area, which is enough to freeze into and maintain only 10 miles of ice roads. Therefore, full development may likely require a network of permanent gravel pads and roads. (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/arctic/issues1.htm).

Shell recently proposed to drill offshore, about 70 miles away from Kaktovik, Alaska -- a one-square mile village with 245 inhabitants (http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=165).
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population245
Start Date1977
Company Names or State EnterprisesConocoPhillips Alaska from United States of America
BP Global Exploration from United States of America
Relevant government actorsCity & Borough of Juneau, Mayor, City of Homer, City of Kaktovik, City of Kivilina, City of Kodiak, City of Nenana, City of Nondalton, City of Soldotna, Vice Mayor, City of Valdez, City of Whittier, Denali Borough, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Kodiak Island Borough, Municipality of Anchorage, North Slope Borough, Alaska Legislature
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersGwich'in Indians of Arctic Village, Sierra Club, NRDC
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Gwich’in and Iñupiat
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Media based activism/alternative media
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
OtherMajor effects were defined as "widespread, long-term change in habitat availability or quality which would likely modify natural abundance or distribution of species." Moderate effects were expected for wolves, wolverine, polar bears, snow geese, seabirds and shorebirds, arctic grayling and coastal fish. (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/arctic/issues1.htm). Two-dimensional (2-D) exploration was authorized by Congress in the 1002 Area in the winters of 1984 and 1985. Monitoring of more than 100 permanent plots along the 1,400 miles of seismic lines has documented that while many areas recovered, some trails had still not recovered by 1999 (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/arctic/issues1.htm)
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood
OtherMajor restrictions on subsistence activities by Kaktovik residents would also be expected (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/arctic/issues1.htm)
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Development of AlternativesDrill elsewhere, don't drill at all
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.This is an ongoing issue and no plan has been officially made to begin drilling. All activities have been temporarily halted because of an incorrect environmental impact statement. There is strong support for this project, however this support will most likely outweigh the voices of the local people relying on the land for their subsistence.
Sources and Materials

Caribou and Conoco: Rethinking Environmental Politics in Alaska's ANWR and Beyond by Robert McMonagle


"No Offshore Oil Drilling: Committee Against Oil Exploration (CAOE)"
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Forbes, The Case Against Drilling In Alaska's Arctic Waters
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Resource Development Council: Alaska's Oil and Gas Industry
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Media Links

(1) Jenny Rowland-Shea and Sung Chung, Trump administration is suppressing science and public opinion to drill Arctic Refuge. Centre for American Progress. 26 June 2019.

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Other Documents

Should we drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? An Economic Perspective
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Map of ANWR and 1002 Area
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Environmental damage Vehicles in March 1985 compacted the snow and damaged underlying plants during seismic exploration activities
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Environmental damage Trail damage to tussock tundra the summer following winter seismic surveys
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Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta Information
ContributorBernadette Grafton, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update30/06/2019