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Frances Beinecke’s Blog

Time to Protect the Arctic Refuge from Drilling Once and For All

Frances Beinecke

Posted July 10, 2014

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I will never forget the sensation of flying over the Brooks Range in a tiny Cessna. The ride was bumpy, and the light of an endless Alaskan summer day poured through the windows. Snow-covered peaks and slate-gray ridges filled the skyline. Then suddenly we cleared the mountains and the bright green expanse of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge unfolded before us. Caribou wandered through the grass, patches of purple and scarlet flowers poked through the tundra, and an aquamarine river cut through the landscape. Everywhere I looked, I saw pristine wilderness. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had even seen.

I was thrilled to travel to the refuge last summer. I’ve been drawn to that magical place since my conservation heroine Mardy Murie helped establish it several decades ago. But now the refuge is facing a new round of threats. Oil and gas companies are clamoring to drill in the coastal plain—a push that would forever industrialize what is often called the American Serengeti.

Fortunately, U.S. lawmakers have introduced bipartisan bills to designate the refuge’s coastal plain as wilderness. To move these bills forward, lawmakers have to hear an outcry of public support.  The American people own the refuge. If it gets handed over to oil and gas development, we will lose one of the most extraordinary pieces of our natural heritage. But if we raise our voices now, we can save the coastal plain for generations to come.

As Mardy Murie once told a Congressional committee, “I hope the United States of America is not so rich that she can afford to let these wildernesses pass by. Or so poor, she cannot afford to keep them.”Because once they are lost, they are lost forever.

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After spending several days floating the Canning River, we flew out of the refuge and soon after leaving the boundary, we ran into oil and gas development. The industrial complex around Prudhoe Bay covers 1,000 square miles of former tundra, 1,500 miles of roads and pipelines, 1,400 wells in production, and more than 60 contaminates waste sites. As my colleague Chuck Clusen said, “It’s like flying over the industrial hub of Gary, Indiana, for a hundred miles.”

The industry wants to bring that development to the wilds of the coastal plain. This is as pristine and fragile an ecosystem as we have left in the US, a touchstone for conservation. If companies breach this barrier, where will they trample next? Greater Yellowstone? The Canyonlands in Utah? The Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota?

It’s time to recognize that some places are too special to drill, especially when America has cleaner, more sustainable ways to power our cars. Two years ago the Obama Administration raised fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. These standards will cut our oil imports by one-third and save consumers $80 billion a year at the pump by 2025. They will also cut carbon pollution from new cars in half.

We can preserve our last wildlands and keep our economy moving at the same time. Click here to call on our lawmakers to permanently protect the coastal plain of the Arctic refuge before it’s too late.

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Photo credits: NRDC Senior Attorney Niel Lawrence

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Ms. Caribou SteaksJul 10 2014 05:17 PM

My understanding is that 92% of ANWR is permanently closed to development. Of the 8% being debated for exploration only 2000 acres may contain infrastructure or roughly less than 1/2 of 1% of ANWR. Anyway it seems a little disingenuous to say that ANWR will be destroyed because development is allowed on 8% of it. Like saying Gary Indiana's shore line is spoilt thus ALL of INDIANA is spoilt too....? So somehow I don't think it will look like Gary does, especially given the environmental scrutiny any development will be under. And having been to Prudhoe Bay it definitely doesn't look like Gary Indiana. Just another note, the 8% or the "10-02" area as it was coded by ANILCA was specifically designated by Congress "for the study of oil and gas exploration" it doesn't have a "Wilderness" designation, nor "Refuge" designation as defined by the lower areas in ANWR itself. Thus to compare it to a National Park "Yellowstone", "Canyon Lands", is really really disingenuous as they have totally different land classifications and as you should know national parks are totally off limits to development. The same as 92% of ANWR is. I point all this out so that you can be fair to your readers, to let them know the facts rather than emotional rhetoric which seems your style. Alaskan's, especially the native land holders of ANWR, live there and really do not want to see their lands spoilt. Yet if you check the official viewpoint and the history of the viewpoint of the natives of the North Slope Borough, Kaktovik and Barrow they have consistently supported environmentally sensitive development in the 10-02 for over 30 years. More so, Alaska's democratically elected State Legislature and every Governor, Representative, and Senator the state has ever had have all consistently supported development in the 10-02. That is voice of the people of the land, and the people of the State and surely they count for something? Could 60 out of 60 Alaska State legislators both Ds and Rs be wrong? Because currently that is the vote on the issue. 60-0 in support of development in the 10-02....what will your readers think of that? Politically and logistically thats an amazing amount of support for any issue. Do Alaskans voice thus not count? Do our opinions not matter nor warrant mention in your article? Do we who live there not know what is best for OUR lands????

Marisol Schlemmer Jul 10 2014 08:37 PM

We have to protect ourenvironment our planet and the animals.

josh cowardJul 10 2014 09:09 PM

Keep the artic out of oil companies hands. I think it's time we move on to cleaner energy.

chris gloverJul 10 2014 11:22 PM

Protect our environment

Frances BeineckeJul 11 2014 01:15 PM

Thanks for the comments. Ms Caribou Steaks, the coastal plain plays a very special role for wildlife: it’s the refuge’s birthing ground. Developing it would have consequences far beyond its borders for species such as caribou, which the Gwich’in people rely heavily upon, and polar bears, which are fast losing their habitat globally. The plain’s summer plant growth also sustains grizzly bears, wolves, Arctic fox, muskoxen, and migratory birds. Oil development would severely fragment the area and destroy much of its value to wildlife—just as drilling around the parks in Greater Yellowstone and Greater Canyonlands would have significant impacts. Of course Alaskan voices count in the debate, and I have heard them speak both for and against stronger protections. I have also seen hundreds of thousands of people urge Congress to preserve this land that is owned and treasured by America as a whole.

JakeJul 11 2014 02:58 PM


Your comments, not surprisingly, are totally disingenuous. Oil development these days, especially in harsh conditions, has a very tiny surface footprint. Many, many wells are produced through a single site covering no more than a few acres.

Also, you didn't really have much to say about Ms Caribou Steaks' points. Is this because you have no counter-argument?

Gerald QuindryJul 12 2014 12:14 PM

The tents in your photo are made from petrochemicals. The airplanes you flew in from New York were powered by petroleum-based fuels. Did you cook your camp-out meals on propane and/or kerosene stoves? I could go on and on...

So name me a place that isn't "too special to drill," where petroleum and natural gas can be produced, since they are the sources of these essential fuels, lubricants, and chemical intermediaries.

I don't dispute the claim that there are special and unique places that should be undisturbed by Man (including campers from the City). But can list some places that you do NOT consider to be so special?

A Proud CanadianJul 12 2014 09:05 PM

OMG Francis actually comments on her articles!

Please answer the following simple question.

You need to fill your car with gas…. You pull up to a gas station and they have 2 pumps. One says “refined in the USA from North American oil”. The other says “refined in the USA from Saudi oil”. Which do you choose? Why?


A Proud CanadianJul 15 2014 11:06 PM


You stopped replying .... what's up?

Comments are closed for this post.


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