Arctic refuge oil drilling infuriates environmental advocates


Josh Haner

Polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which will soon fall victim to oil drilling.

Laura Nowicki, Managing Editor

On Dec. 3, the Trump administration announced its plan to auction off acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil drilling with hopes to conclude the Republican party’s fight to sell the land for over four decades. As the largest wildlife refuge in the country, the drilling puts the untouched habitat for over three hundred species of wildlife in danger.

The ANWR, known as one of the last unspoiled wild places on earth, has been protecting the lives of wolves, caribou, polar bears, and bird species from every state in the U.S. and six continents. It is also vital for the survival of the indigenous Gwitch’in people, whose culture has been shaped by the refuge for thousands of years. The drilling of the refuge will not only harm humans and animals alike, but also threatens the future of the planet as the consequences of global warming continue to reveal themselves.

Drilling advocates are most interested in the ANWR’s coastal plain, which is estimated to contain 7.7 billion barrels of

The most sought-after land for oil drilling within the ANWR lies in the coastal plain. (Mark Nowlin)

oil beneath its surface. The coastal plain, however, is also home to about 34 percent of polar bear maternal dens in the western U.S. Arctic and is a migrating location for hundreds of thousands of caribou.

Though the fight to sell the land has been an ongoing issue since the late ’70s, the announcement of the auction enraged the public. Not long after the news broke, activists began posting petitions and information to educate users on various social media platforms. After pressure from fans and critics alike to use their platforms for good, several influencers began spreading the news about the auction, including Charli D’Amelio, the most followed influencer on TikTok. It wasn’t long before multiple petitions began to gain traction, including one created by Frank Escalona, Michael Cianos, and Susan Schmid that has accumulated over 1.4 million signatures on “I am signing because no animal deserves to live like this,” began Justice Morton, a commenter who signed the petition. “If a human can be responsible for how animals have to live, we can be responsible for helping them get back what they lost. They deserve much better.”

Despite the efforts, petitions, and pleading, the Republican party succeeded in the selling of drilling rights within the ANWR. On Jan. 6, the Trump administration sold roughly 550,000 acres of land for just $25 an acre to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority as well as a few smaller energy firms. Though they hoped for greater success, low oil prices and banks announcing that they would not finance Arctic energy projects prevented more oil companies from purchasing land. While the government has plans to auction off more land by the end of 2024, the incoming Biden administration as well as a Democrat-controlled Senate will likely overturn the decision.

Despite these drastic changes in the function of the federal government, the future of the ANWR remains uncertain. Therefore, the Natural Resources Defense Council continues to advocate for the protection of the land, advertising through newsletters, petitions, letters of opposition, and related campaigns. “What we’ve got to ask ourselves as Americans is this: Do we survive and prosper by destroying all our natural resources or by preserving them?” explained Robert Redford in an NDRC promotional video. “This is it. We can’t back down; we’ve fought too long.”