In what looks like a blow to environmental conservation and Indigenous peoples’ rights, President Donald Trump has announced that he will open up the 1.6 million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling.
The Arctic Refuge is said to be the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the U.S. – and supposedly one of the last remaining unspoiled places on the planet. It is home to iconic wilderness, polar bears, snowy owls, caribou, jaegers, and other endangered species. The Native Gwich’in people that live there call the Refuge’s coastal plain “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins”.
A team of non-governmental organisations who are campaigning against the plan – 198 methods, The Climate Reality Project, Consumers United For Fairness, Daily Kos, The Juggernaut Project, The Natural History Museum, Ocean River Institute, Progress America, Progressive Reform Network and Seeding Sovereignty – insist that drilling in the significant and environmentally fragile refuge will hasten climate change and have devastating consequences for Indigenous people, wildlife, and pristine public lands.
“This is an environmental nightmare! Even the Interior Department’s attempt to cover-up the dangers of drilling in the Arctic Refuge in their own environmental impact statement revealed that drilling could lead to extinctions. Drilling for petroleum and natural gas will also risk major oil spills in the wildlife refuge,” the groups said, as they seek signatories to a petition calling on Congress to oppose the plan.
They added that the drilling would directly and negatively impact the Indigenous Gwich’in people, who depend on caribou living within the proposed drilling site. The Gwich’in people, the campaigners noted, have relied on the Arctic Refuge for thousands of years, for food, cultural and spiritual needs.
“This is yet another chapter in a long history of racial discrimination and the denial of Indigenous rights.
“We stand in solidarity with the Gwich’in people and we stand for the preservation of the Arctic Refuge. We must demand Congress immediately step in and block any lease sales for drilling in the Arctic Refuge, before it’s too late!” they added.