Ignoring Public Opposition, Bush Administration, GOP Lawmakers Revive Bid to Drill in Arctic Refuge

Conference Leaders Dust Off Bogus Claim that Only 2,000 Acres Would be Affected

(09/22/2003) - WASHINGTON, DC – Despite broad public opposition, GOP lawmakers negotiating the energy bill have again added a provision that would open the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.  As before, parties in the Energy Conference are pushing environmentally damaging conference language that would ostensibly restrict drilling to 2,000 acres, a maneuver Defenders of Wildlife Vice President for Government Relations Robert Dewey called "a ludicrous scam."

"Supporters of drilling in the Arctic Refuge will say and do anything to get their way," said Dewey.  "The alleged 2,000 acre ‘footprint' is in reality a spiderweb of development that would engulf the length and breadth of the coastal plain.  The plan is a cynical ruse designed to soften opposition while still allowing oil companies virtually unfettered access to this pristine wilderness area."

Dewey pointed to the following facts to back up his statement:

  • According to the U.S. Geological Survey, oil under the coastal plain is not concentrated in one large reservoir.  To produce oil from this vast area, supporting infrastructure would have to stretch across the coastal plain.
  • The 2,000 acre "limitation" does not require that the 2,000 acres of production and support facilities be in one contiguous area. Thus, as with the oil fields to the west of the Arctic Refuge, development could and would be spread out over a very large area.
  • Gravel mines, roads, and pipelines are not included as part of the 2,000 acre restrictions.  The legislative language also ignores seismic and other exploration activities as well as air and noise pollution.
  • The conference language exempts a large part of the leasing program from the environmental review and public participation provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act. Exempting drilling activity from meaningful environmental review clearly contradicts the claims of environmentally benign drilling from drilling proponents.
  • The language eliminates the fundamental "compatibility" standard which is at the heart of National Wildlife Refuge management, wherein activities that impair refuge purposes cannot be allowed, activities such as oil drilling. 

"The public opposes drilling in the Arctic Refuge.  Twice the Senate has rejected drilling in the refuge as a short-sighted and misguided solution to our nation's energy problems," said Dewey.  "The only people who support this policy are the oil executives and their friends in Congress."

"No matter how they package it, drilling in the Arctic Refuge will destroy one of this nation's last and greatest wilderness areas," added Dewey.


Defenders of Wildlife is a leading nonprofit conservation organization recognized as one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 430,000 members and supporters, 90,000 in California alone, Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species issues. To stay current on hot topics in wildlife conservation, subscribe to DENlines, Defenders of Wildlife’s electronic update and action alert network. To subscribe to DENlines or for more information on Defenders of Wildlife projects, please visit www.defenders.org.



Brad DeVries, (202) 772-0237