The Threat

THREATS TO THE ARCTIC REFUGE 

Oil and gas development efforts in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ignore the human rights of Indigenous Peoples who live in the region and depend on these sacred lands. It also disregards the devastating impacts on the millions of birds, fish, and wildlife that rely on the Arctic Refuge—one of America's most majestic public lands. 

The Biden administration has taken actions to temporarily delay drilling in the Arctic Refuge, but long-term threats remain.

GOVERNMENT: ARCTIC LEASING PROGRAM

GOVERNMENT: ARCTIC LEASING PROGRAM 

After decades of bipartisan support for protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling, and against the will of the majority of people across the country, pro-drilling Republicans slipped a provision mandating oil and gas lease sales for the coastal plain of the refuge into the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

On Jan. 6, 2021, the Trump administration rushed to auction off the coastal plain to oil companies before President Biden’s inauguration, and the federal Bureau of Land Management held the first of two mandated lease sales. Despite projections of raising $1.8 billion in total, the January sale attracted a mere $14.4 million in bids, a tiny fraction of what was projected. 

However, on the afternoon of Inauguration Day—citing “alleged deficiencies underlying the program” and an inadequate environmental review—President Biden moved swiftly to impose a temporary moratorium on all oil and gas activity in the Arctic Refuge. Biden, who stated during his campaign that he intended to protect the refuge, directed the U.S. Department of the Interior to review the leasing program and analyze its potential environmental impacts. 

The federal Department of the Interior announced on June 1 that it was suspending oil and gas leases from the Trump administration’s rushed and legally dubious Jan. 6 lease sale and temporarily halting all activities related to developing the affected tracts of land. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland cited multiple legal deficiencies in an analysis prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act when the previous administration was haphazardly rushing to advance drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Haaland ordered “a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.”

However, these actions are temporary, and the Arctic Refuge is still at risk. 

BIG OIL: 88 ENERGY

BIG OIL: 88 ENERGY

When the previous administration held a lease sale for the Arctic Refuge, most oil companies were smart enough to know that participating was too big a financial and reputational risk. 

But not 88 Energy. This Australian oil company has been sneakily laying the foundation for destroying the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge and acquired one of nine tracts sold in the Jan. 6 lease sale. 88 Energy and its subsidiaries hold interests in 175 oil concessions on Alaska’s North Slope, west of the Arctic Refuge. 

In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, 88 Energy executive David Wall described the company’s bid as a “soft entry” into the Arctic Refuge. He also said, “We don’t want to do anything to upset anyone, but we want to make money for ourselves, and the state and its people.”

Even though President Biden placed a temporary moratorium on the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program and temporarily suspended all leases pending a thorough review of the legality of the Jan. 6 lease sale and potential effects of development, 88 Energy could develop its lease should the moratorium be lifted. 

Advocates are already seeing the energy company make moves in leadership and to obtain funding, though it is unclear whether those moves are related to the Arctic Refuge.

INSURANCE: LIBERTY MUTUAL

INSURANCE: LIBERTY MUTUAL 

All oil and gas projects need funding and insurance coverage to move forward, and the Arctic Refuge is no different. While many big banks and insurance companies have publicly withdrawn support for oil and gas development in the refuge, insurance giant Liberty Mutual has repeatedly rejected invitations to meet with Indigenous Peoples and hear their concerns. 

More than 300 companies have spoken out against the drilling in the Arctic Refuge, and international insurance companies, including AXIS Capital Holdings Ltd., France’s AXA S.A. and Swiss Re, have vowed to not insure such projects. But Boston-based Liberty Mutual—which announced in December that it had become a signatory of the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment—has failed to take a stand against drilling in the refuge.

Learn more about the Gwich’in Steering Committee’s corporate efforts to pressure insurers and banks to commit to protecting the Arctic Refuge. And see how other insurers stack up here.

HOW DO WE PROTECT THE ARCTIC REFUGE FROM THESE THREATS?

Political leaders have committed to moving budget reconciliation through Congress, and we call on Congress to use this legislative option to reverse the Trump leasing program in the sacred Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Budget reconciliation is the ideal legislative vehicle—and our best chance—to restore protections for the Arctic Refuge.