The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

What’s the latest in the battle over whether or not to permanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

Dear EarthTalk: What’s the latest in the battle over whether or not to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)? The issue seems to come up every few years around election season but I haven’t heard anything about it lately. — Gerald LaPlante, Boston, MA

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), located on Alaska’s northeast coast, has been a conservation-versus-development battleground for decades. The 1.5 million-acre coastal plain at the foot of the Brooks Range where the land meets the Arctic Ocean is the crown jewel of the 19 million-acre refuge—and a magnet for iconic Alaskan wildlife like caribou, polar bears, and wolverines. But oil interests say the coastal plain is covering huge oil and natural gas reserves and should be drilled for the sake of the U.S. and Alaskan economies.

Some 250 wildlife species consider ANWR home, while another 180 species of birds migrate through every year (from all 50 states and beyond). The coastal plain itself is a birthing ground for the region’s iconic caribou herd and also provides safe haven and sustenance for hundreds of other marine and terrestrial species. Environmental advocacy groups cite studies showing that industrial operations would deter animals from the area, robbing them of one of the last protected areas to raise their young.

Beyond biological pragmatism, conservationists argue that opening the refuge up to drilling operations would set a dangerous precedent, potentially opening the door for similar pressures on federal wilderness areas and even in national parks. Some of the key defenders of ANWR include the Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, EarthJustice, and others.

The other side champions the economic potential of the region. Alaska Governor Bill Walker has strongly supported drilling operations in ANWR, a stance shared by Alaska’s federal representatives. A 2007 Yale study showed the potential for $374 billion dollars of oil beneath ANWR. This would be a vital income for the state government, which relies heavily on oil and gas tax streams for its budget.

Alaska politicians say they need the extra revenue to pay to relocate climate refugees from villages inundated by rising seas. “We are in a significant fiscal challenge,” Alaska’s Republican governor Bill Walker told the BBC. “We have villages that are washing away because of changes in the climate.”

Nationally, supporters of drilling also cite economics: Every barrel of oil produced domestically puts tax money in the national coffers and creates local jobs. Shell has been the major commercial supporter of opening the refuge, though 78 percent of Alaskans share the sentiment. The state legislature has passed legislation opening ANWR to oil exploration—but it’s not theirs to decide since it’s on federal land.

But that doesn’t mean ANWR is safe from development. Inside the Washington DC beltway, the Republican-dominated House passed a dozen resolutions in support of opening it up to oil exploration in the last session alone—although Democratic filibuster efforts were able to block any such legislation. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats Michael Bennet (CO), Ed Markey (MA) and 32 Democratic co-sponsors introduced legislation last December calling for permanently designating the most sensitive sections of ANWR as wilderness off-limits to development. With bigger fish to fry right now, lawmakers might not consider the legislation until a new President is in office, but backers of protecting ANWR can urge their Senators to support the bill via an easy-to-send customizable online form letter courtesy of the non-profit EarthJustice.

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of the nonprofit Earth Action Network. To donate, visit Send questions to: [email protected].

What’s Next? Talk with others. Take action.

We are proud of our SOCIAL INTEREST GROUPS—WEEKLY PHONE CALLS to discuss, gain insights, build communities— and help solve some of the most difficult challenges the world has today. Calls are for Members Only (although you can join the first call for free). Not yet a member of The Good Men Project? Join below!

RSVP for Intersectionality Calls

 Join the Conscious Intersectionality FACEBOOK GROUP here. Includes our new call series on Human Rights.

Join The Good Men Project Community

All levels get to view The Good Men Project site AD-FREE.

Register New Account

Please note: If you are already a writer/contributor at The Good Men Project, log in here before registering. (Request a new password if needed).


ANNUAL PLATINUM membership ($50 per year) includes:
1. AN ALL ACCESS PASS — Join ANY and ALL of our weekly calls, Social Interest Groups, classes, workshops, and private Facebook groups. We have at least one group phone call or online class every day of the week.
2. See the website with no ads when logged in!
3. MEMBER commenting badge.
ANNUAL GOLD membership ($25 per year) includes all the benefits above — but only ONE Weekly Social Interest Group and ONE class.
ANNUAL BRONZE membership ($12 per year) is great if you are not ready to join the full conversation but want to support our mission anyway. You’ll still get a BRONZE commenting badge, and you can pop into any of our weekly Friday Calls with the Publisher when you have time. This is for people who believe—like we do—that this conversation about men and changing roles and goodness in the 21st century is one of the most important conversations you can have today.


We have pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Your support of our work is inspiring and invaluable.

This post previously published on Earth Talk and is republished with the permission of the authors.

Photo courtesy Shutterstock.

Back to Top