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Arctic Refuge CCP: Rebuttals to Oil Industry Myths

Multinational oil corporations and their allies who desire changing laws to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge make many claims that do not withstand scrutiny. In reality, the Interior Department concluded oil development would have MAJOR impacts to wildlife and wilderness in 1987; oil and gas is NOT a purpose of the Arctic Refuge; the Fish & Wildlife Service properly did not include an oil and gas development alternative in the CCP; the Conservation Plan correctly included Wilderness Reviews and Recommendations and the "No More" clause of ANILCA does not apply. Read More....

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP)/ EIS

Q&A Rebuttals to Oil Industry Claims:

[Fact Sheet as PDF]

Claim: “In 1987, the Department of the Interior concluded that oil development would have minimal impact on wildlife.”[1]

Reality: In fact, the Department of the Interior’s study in 1987 concluded there would be major impacts to wildlife, wilderness, and subsistence.[2] 

·         Major negative impacts to Porcupine caribou herd, muskox, subsistence, water, noise, recreation and wilderness, and significant impacts to snow geese, wolves, wolverines, brown bear, polar bears, gravel, vegetation, and permafrost terrain. (p.166)

·         “The wilderness character of the coastal plain would be irretrievably lost.”   (p.164)

·         “The 1002 area is the most biologically productive part of the Arctic Refuge for wildlife and is the center of wildlife activity.  It serves as an important calving ground for the Porcupine caribou herd… Migrating caribou and the post-calving caribou aggregation offer an extraordinary spectacle…”  (p.46)

·         “Oil and gas development would result in long-term changes in the wilderness environment, wildlife habitats, and Native community activities currently existing, resulting instead in an area governed by industrial activities.”  (p. 165)


Claim:   “Not only would new Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations violate the “no more” clauses of ANILCA, they would go against the original intent of Congress and the law.”

Reality:  As FWS states in its Summary of Draft CCP, June 2011, “These wilderness and wild and scenic river reviews are required of the Refuge and do not violate the “no more” clauses of ANILCA because they are not a withdrawal and are not being conducted for the sole purpose of establishing a conservation system unit.”

When Congress enacted ANILCA, it specifically incorporated portions of the Wilderness Act into the statute and carried over the Wilderness Act’s wilderness review mandate for Alaska refuges.  In doing so, the FWS was given broad authority to review areas within Alaska refuges for wilderness suitability and report recommendations for wilderness designation to the President. 16 U.S.C. § 3205.

The FWS has the authority to identify “the special values of the refuge, as well as any other archeological, cultural, ecological, geological, historical, paleontological, scenic, or wilderness value of the refuge” and manage the various areas of the refuge to support those identified resources and values.  ANILCA sec. 304(g)(2)(B); 304(g)(3)(A)(i).

As a vital component of the greater Refuge ecosystem, the coastal plain supports cultural, ecological, and wilderness values consistent with the purposes for which the Arctic Refuge was created.  For that reason, wilderness values retain vitality as a category of resources and values that FWS should properly review during the CCP revision process to comply with the mandates of the law.


Claim: “There is no need for additional Wilderness designations in ANWR.”

Reality: The Wilderness Review and recommendations in the CCP alternatives are fitting as the Coastal Plain is the only part of the original refuge set aside 50 years ago for its wilderness values that is not designated Wilderness yet.  Northern Alaska Environmental Center and other conservationists described the need in this rationale:[3]

“The Coastal Plain unit is an integral part of the adjacent designated Wilderness lands and their intact ecosystems which make the whole Arctic Refuge truly unique among our Nation's natural treasures.  The Coastal Plain was an integral part of the original Arctic National Wildlife Range established in 1960 for the purpose of “preserving its unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values.”  This area contains beautiful rivers rushing from the highest peaks in the Brooks Range and Sadlerochit Mountains then coursing north through the “1002 area’s” foothills and hilly coastal plain, braiding across wetland tundra with lakes and ponds to broad river deltas, inter-tidal flats, lagoon and barrier island systems, and bays, spits, and other pristine shorelines along the Beaufort Sea. 

The Coastal Plain hides vital winter maternity dens for polar bears, increasing in importance as arctic sea ice vanishes.  Its coastal lagoons provide ringed seal pupping lairs.  Dolly Varden (formerly known as Arctic char) overwinter and spawn in streams and river channels, primarily where springs flow year round, and then migrate to nearshore coastal waters for summer feeding.   The Coastal Plain bursts with life in the summer as migratory wildlife converges on this biological heart of the Refuge —the Porcupine caribou herd along with golden eagles, wolves, and brown bears, and millions of migratory birds for nesting, feeding, molting, and staging. 

The Coastal Plain is connected to existing designated Wilderness lands to its east and south through its scenic landscapes, watersheds, rivers, migration of the Porcupine caribou herd to its birthplace and nursery area, and to the lives of the Gwich'in people who depend on the caribou.  It is also connected through its wildlife and sweeping landscapes to the broader ecosystem including Canada’s Ivvavik and Vuntut National Parks and other conservation areas in this rich trans-boundary region.”


Claim: “The Service has unreasonably restricted the scope of alternatives and public comment by refusing to consider an oil and gas development alternative in the draft CCP.” 

Reality: FWS correctly did not include an oil and gas development alternative as oil and gas development is not a purpose of the Arctic Refuge.


Claim: “ANILCA mandates the Service to periodically revisit the issue of oil and gas activity within the 1002 area.  This directive is as clear as the mandate the Service claims to have that requires it to revisit wilderness issues.”

Reality: No, the one-time Congressional mandate in Section 1002(h) concerning oil and gas recommendations is done (in 1987).  The one-time seismic exploration survey for it is done.[4]

While Section 1002(c) of ANILCA provided for, among other things, “a comprehensive and continuing inventory and assessment of the fish and wildlife resources of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,”  that is different from the Section 1002(h) one-time study of oil and gas potential by means other than drilling and Interior Secretary’s recommendation regarding future oil and gas activities that was completed in 1987 (U.S. Department of the Interior, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, Coastal Plain Resource Assessment,  Report and Recommendation to the Congress of the United States and Final Legislative Environmental Impact Statement). 

It is not true that any part of the Arctic Refuge was “set aside for oil development.”  The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) passed by Congress and signed by President Carter in 1980 established four purposes of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats, uphold international treaties, provide for subsistence, ensure water quality and quantity). 

ANILCA Sec. 1002(i) withdrew the Coastal Plain from operation of the mineral leasing laws.  ANILCA Sec. 1003 explicitly prohibits oil and gas leasing and development in the Arctic Refuge. 


Claim: “There are compelling national economic and energy security reasons for opening the 1002 area to responsible oil and gas development… upwards of 16 billion barrels of oil and 18 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are estimated to lie within the 1002 area of ANWR.”

Reality:  Oil and gas exploration, leasing, development, and production is prohibited in the Arctic Refuge by law today; such activities and infrastructure are incompatible with all of the purposes of the Refuge due to their harmful impacts. Even if economically producible oil were found, it would not provide a significant amount of energy to meet national needs compared to other alternatives.  There is simply no national energy need that warrants exploiting this priceless national treasure. 

This is not another supergiant Prudhoe Bay field. The U.S. Geological Survey has found that economically recoverable oil and gas is liable to be found in several separate smaller accumulations, rather than one large one.   The U.S. Geological Survey’s review of production prospects in the Refuge “precluded accumulations as large as the Prudhoe Bay field.” [1] According to data from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) there is only a 50 percent probability of 10.4 billion barrels economically recoverable but the more accurate figure (95 percent probability) predicts 5.7 billion barrels of oil is economically recoverable based. 

A number of studies show that potential oil and gas in the Arctic Refuge —if discovered and is found to be economic to produce— is far less than energy conservation and other alternatives.  Energy Information Administration (EIA) data show that over the next two decades, the conservation gains of the last two years alone from market-based conservation, when compared to Arctic Refuge drilling will be 5 times more effective in reducing the nation’s petroleum import requirement.[5]  Analysis of this data shows that during the last two years, this nation has quietly booked an 11.3 billion barrel reduction in estimated U.S. oil imports between 2011 and 2030 due to lower oil consumption, a figure developed by comparing the EIA March 2008 Annual Energy Outlook reference case projections to the agency’s current outlook.[6]  Energy conservation in the past two years is therefore five times greater than the 2.1 billion barrels of oil that EIA estimates might be discovered and produced from the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain region between 2011 and 2030.


Claim: “With advances in technology, it is possible to develop the coastal plain’s energy reserves with directly utilizing very little (potentially only 2,000 acres) of the 1.5 million acres in the 1002 area.  Such development would allow access to energy Americans need without any significant disturbance to wildlife.”

Reality:  The entire 1.5 million-acre Refuge Coastal Plain would be open to leasing and drilling.

There is no requirement that the “2,000 acres” be contiguous (it’s not a compact square).  Bills mandate the first lease sale be 100 times greater than the supposed limit to development.  It does not include all oil industry infrastructure, facilities, or operations.  Seismic exploration, drilling and supporting infrastructure would have to sprawl across the Refuge Coastal Plain.  The National Academy of Sciences said harm to wildlife extends well beyond the direct “footprint” and effects could last centuries.

No matter how well done, oil drilling would industrialize the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge.  Once the wilderness is destroyed, it will be gone forever (even if the “2,000 acres” were continuous).

The U.S. Geological Survey has found that economically recoverable oil and gas is liable to be found in several separate smaller accumulations, rather than one large one. [7]  In fact, the USGS said in a review of production prospects that the results “precluded accumulations as large as the Prudhoe Bay field.”[8] Any development would therefore result in a network of pads and pipelines spread across the Coastal Plain, rather than one concentrated development site.[9]   The National Academy of Sciences found that harm to wildlife extends well beyond the direct “footprint” of structures and that effects could last centuries in its 2003 study, Cumulative environmental effects of oil and gas activities on Alaska’s North Slope.  Networks of drill sites, support facilities, gravel mines, pipelines, airports, and roads built to produce oil have disturbed wildlife and fragmented their habitats. 

Directional drilling for oil, which is not a new technology, has impacts that are no different than conventional oil drilling.[10] It requires surface occupancy for drill rigs and well pads as well as runways, roads, pipelines and other transportation and supply infrastructure, albeit at a location near but not immediately above oil and gas reservoirs.  Because of its higher cost, directional drilling may or may not be used for exploratory drilling.  Additionally, regardless of whether directional or conventional drilling is used, there would be extensive adverse impacts from seismic exploration which occurs directly above the subsurface being explored.  In the Arctic, seismic exploration typically involves heavy vehicles driving across the tundra in a grid pattern, compressing sensitive soil and plants.  Tundra recovery from seismic activities can take decades.  Those familiar with directional drilling know that for technical reasons directional drilling only has a range of a few miles.  As a result, any bill proposing to use directional drilling to access federally-protected areas [such as Sen. Murkowski's S 351]:

1.       Misleads decision-makers by ignoring the need for repeated surface use across extensive areas for seismic exploration, including 3-D surveys and exploratory and delineation drilling,

2.       Misleads decision-makers by having them think that an area’s full oil development potential could be realized through directional drilling, and

3.       Misleads the public by implying that oil drilling in an area will be forever limited to the distance accessible via directional drilling.  When oil production proceeds, there will be calls to expand drilling to reach portions of reservoirs not accessible via directional drilling. 

The bottom line with directional drilling is that it allows a region to become industrialized and adversely impacted to essentially the same extent as conventional drilling. 


Claim: Wilderness Designation for the Coastal Plain would be a broken promise to ANCSA corporations who have private holdings in the area.

Reality:  Wilderness Designation is a layer of protection to the existing federal Arctic Refuge lands.

There would be no broken promises to private corporations from continued prohibition of oil and gas leasing, exploration and development.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971 set up a two-tier system of organization for Alaska Native communities: village corporations and regional corporations.  As a result of ANCSA, the corporation created for the villagers of Kaktovik selected 69,120 acres of surface rights to lands adjacent to the village to maintain traditional ways of village life.  This acreage is located on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but outside of the “1002” section of the coastal plain, and it is the maximum allowable acreage that a village corporation could select in a National Wildlife Refuge under the terms set forth in ANCSA.  Following the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, this Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation was allowed to select additional acreage inside the “1002 area” of the Arctic Refuge and now owns roughly 92,000 surface acres.  According to well-founded principles of property law and the terms of ANCSA, oil and gas resources are a part of the subsurface, not surface, estate.

Also pursuant to ANCSA, the regional corporation for the residents of Alaska’s North Slope, which includes residents of Kaktovik, was entitled to select a certain amount of subsurface lands in northern Alaska.  ANCSA prohibited, however, the selection of subsurface rights in National Wildlife Refuges existing at that time.  Given this prohibition, the corporation, called the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), originally selected nearly five million acres of surface and subsurface acreage across Alaska’s North Slope, some of which was in Gates of the Arctic National Park.  In a controversial Watt-era land exchange, ASRC was able to trade its surface rights in the Gates of the Arctic for the subsurface rights under the 69,120 acres of village corporation lands and an additional 23,040 acres of subsurface rights inside the “1002” area.  This transfer of the subsurface interest in 92,160 acres specifically excluded the right to develop the oil and gas in the subsurface estate.[11] 

Indeed, despite the oil and gas prohibition, ASRC profited from its lands by entering into speculative oil lease options with BP and ChevronTexaco.[12]  That it be precluded from accessing any oil and gas resources thus cannot reasonably be characterized as interference with a private property right or as a broken promise.  




[1] Claims shown in italics are from: Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.,

[2] U.S. Department of the Interior.  April 1987.  Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, Coastal Plain Resource Assessment.  Report and Recommendation to the Congress of the United States and Final Legislative Environmental Impact Statement. 

[3] Alaska Wilderness League, Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, National Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental  Center, Trustees for Alaska, The Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch.  June 7, 2010.  Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan Comments on Scoping submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

[4] Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.  Jan 18, 2001.  Letter to Representative Edward J. Markey and attachment of Solicitor Opinion by John D. Leshy on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

[1] Emil D. Attanasi and John H. Schuenemeyer, “Frontier areas and resource assessment: The Case of the 1002Area of the Alaska North Slope” (U.S. Geological Survey, Open File Report 02-119, March 2002), p. 10.

[5] Fineberg, R.A. May 15, 2010.  Reduced oil imports from conservation vs potential Arctic Refuge oil production, 2011-2030.  Report to Northern Alaska Environmental Center and the Alaska Wilderness League.  Research Associates, Ester Alaska. 21 pp.

[6] Ibid.

[7] U.S. Geological Survey. April 2001. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum Assessment, 1998, including economic analysis. USGS Fact Sheet FS-028-01.

Bird, K.J. 1998. Chapter AO. Assessment Overview. In: The oil and gas resource potential of the 1002 area, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, by ANWR Assessment Team, U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 98-34. Figs. AO6-15.

[8] Emil D. Attanasi and John H. Schuenemeyer, “Frontier areas and resource assessment: The Case of the 1002Area of the Alaska North Slope” (U.S. Geological Survey, Open File Report 02-119, March 2002), p. 10.

[9] See:  USGS Fact Sheet, “Assessment Results,” “Summary” and Fig. 5A.

[10] Testimony of Lois N. Epstein, P.E., Engineer and Arctic Program Director, The Wilderness Society, Anchorage, Alaska, Before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate Hearing on New Developments in Upstream Oil and Gas Technologies, May 10, 2011.

[11] See Appendix 2, Land use stipulations, ASRC Lands, Kaktovik paragraph B.2:

“Production of oil and gas from ASRC Lands in prohibited and no leasing or other development leading to production of oil and gas from ASRC Lands shall be undertaken until Congress authorizes such activities on Refuge lands within the coastal plain or on ASRC Lands, or both."

This land trade occurred behind closed doors, excluding even the village corporation, and it flew in the face of ANCSA’s original intent to prohibit subsurface selection within National Wildlife Refuges.  The land trade also allowed ASRC to avoid the regional corporation revenue-sharing agreements that were a key part of ANCSA.

[12] ASRC, 1985, Annual Report; agreements continue to the present, (accessed Sept. 18, 2011)

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