THE THREAT

The Arctic Refuge is at risk of energy development. This process could threaten local wildlife, indigenous cultures, and the global climate.

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FAST FACT

Oil drilling releases carbon stored in Arctic soil into the atmosphere. This leads to increasingly volatile shifts in global climate.

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FAST FACT

Development of the coastal plain would threaten important habitat for birds, caribou, polar bears, and other wildlife.

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FAST FACT

Seismic testing could cause polar bears to leave their dens too early in the spring, putting young bear cubs at risk of freezing.

AN UNNECESSARY RISK

Only 5% of Alaska’s wild coastal plain remains protected from development. This unique piece of American coastline is now at risk from drilling that could damage it forever. It stands next to 24 million acres of land already open to energy development, an area almost the size of the state of Kentucky. For decades, the American public has agreed that the remaining coastal plain should be left in its natural state. This belief has been supported by political actions by both parties.

In December 2017, these efforts were threatened by an amendment in the 2017 Tax Bill. The coastal plain is now at risk of being sold to the highest bidder.

This change in policy risks wildlife, the Gwich’in people, and the global climate. The Arctic Refuge faces being sold for energy development as soon as this year. This process is moving ahead without the knowledge necessary to protect its people and natural resources. The U.S Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agree that more research is needed to understand the effects of development on this important landscape.

“The Arctic Refuge faces being sold for energy development as soon as this year.”
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POLAR BEARS AT RISK

Polar bears are particularly vulnerable to energy development in the Arctic Refuge. They are listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The population of polar bears in Northern Alaska (called the Southern Beaufort Sea population) has recently declined by almost 40%. The Arctic Refuge is important habitat for this doubly threatened species. They rely on its coastal plain region to make dens, give birth, and raise their young. 

Denning bears and their cubs are at most risk during a stage of oil and gas exploration called seismic surveying. This process involves testing for potential reserves of oil and gas by sending high pressure vibrations into the ground. The equipment used to do so is mounted on 90,000-pound trucks and can only be done during the winter when the ground is frozen enough to support the weight of the vehicles. During this time, polar bears are hidden in their underground dens. The vehicles can scare bears out of these safe spaces, or destroy the dens completely. Young polar bears are particularly at risk from this process. If they do not stay in the warmth of their dens for the first three months of their lives, they risk freezing to death. 

Oil spills also threaten polar bears. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, if drilling is allowed in the Arctic Refuge, the risk of a large oil spill is 75%. Direct contact with oil can prevent polar bears’ fur from properly protecting against the cold. They are also at risk of consuming oil or chemicals through grooming or eating other foods that have come in contact with oil. Both can be deadly for the bears.

A CHANGING CLIMATE

The Arctic is currently warming at twice the global average. Average temperatures in the Arctic Refuge have risen 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1949. As the region warms, sea ice, snow, and permafrost are all melting. The more these landscapes melt, the faster the temperature rises. These climate-related changes impact local mammals, birds, and people. They also negatively affect the rest of the United States and the world. 

LOCAL IMPACTS

  • 69 of the 157 species of birds in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge could be at risk of extinction from changing climate.
  • Rising temperatures and shorter winters limit access to traditional herding, hunting, fishing, and gathering areas for Native peoples.
  • Thinning sea ice reduces hunting land for polar bears, putting them at risk of starvation. 

 

GLOBAL IMPACTS

  • The Arctic Refuge is an important carbon reserve, locking carbon in the frozen ground.
  • Drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge would release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
  • Melting sea ice may drive heat waves and other extreme weather events across North America.
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Indigenous Peoples
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Environmental Importance
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The Arctic Refuge faces being sold off in pieces to energy development as soon as this year, if we do not stand together to #ProtectTheArctic.
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