Oil and Gas Drilling in The Arctic? Undermining the Ecosystem and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Open Letter to Members of the U.S Congress

Open Letter to Members of the United States Congress:

In the next few weeks, the US Congress will decide whether or not to mandate oil and gas drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of the 2018 federal budget bill. The Arctic Refuge may seem far away to many, but its ecosystems sustain a diverse array of species that matter to Americans and to people around the world. Opening this refuge to fossil fuel development would ignore the will of the American people, who have for decades urged their elected officials to protect this irreplaceable ecological treasure. It would also violate human rights and jeopardize the food security of the indigenous Gwich’in people of the US and Canada. We are scholars from a wide range of fields—including the humanities, the social sciences, the sciences, the arts, and other areas—united in our belief that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would be a grave mistake. We call upon Congress to remove this reckless provision from the budget.

There is no justification for using the budget process to push through oil development in the Arctic Refuge. Drilling proponents claim lease sales will generate 1 billion dollars in revenue over the next decade to help defray the 1.5 trillion dollars of proposed tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Even if the anticipated revenue figure turned out to be correct (many estimates predict a far lower amount), it still represents an incredibly minute fraction of the tax-cut proposal.  This abuse of the budget process would sacrifice one of the nation’s most ecologically and culturally significant places for a paltry sum of federal revenue.

As the ecological heart of the Arctic Refuge, the coastal plain provides critical calving and nursing habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd. Almost 200,000 caribou embark every year on the longest land migration of any animal on earth, journeying from the taiga and boreal forest ecosystems of northeast Alaska and the adjacent northwest Canada to the coastal plain, where they calve and nurse their young. Caribou biologists have repeatedly warned that oil development would have catastrophic effects on the herd. In addition to nurturing caribou, the coastal plain provides nesting and feeding habitat for millions of migratory birds. Nearly two hundred different species travel from all fifty states and six continents to breed and find nourishment in the Arctic Refuge. The coastal plain also offers the most important on-shore denning habitat in the US Arctic for polar bears, now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. As we are in the midst of what scientists call the earth’s sixth mass extinction, the vast nursery of the coastal plain needs protection now more than ever.

For Gwich’in communities on both sides of the US-Canada border, the prospect of drilling represents an existential threat to their cultural survival. The Gwich’in have relied upon the Porcupine caribou herd for nutritional, cultural, and spiritual sustenance for millennia. To them, the coastal plain is “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

Drilling in the Arctic is risky—the inevitable and chronic spills of oil and other toxic substances onto the fragile tundra would scar this land and disrupt its wildlife. The pollution caused by the sprawling infrastructure of oil development would threaten wildlife populations and harm indigenous communities that rely on the biotic life. Moreover, as the effects of climate change become more apparent, and as the global community continues to move away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy, why would we now destroy the crown jewel of our National Wildlife Refuge System?

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must not be auctioned off to Big Oil. Its natural values far exceed any oil that may lie beneath the coastal plain. As scholars from across the United States and Canada, we ask that you keep this cherished place and vibrant ecosystem protected for generations to come.


Subhankar Banerjee, Lannan Chair and Professor of Art and Ecology, University of New Mexico

Finis Dunaway, Professor of History, Trent University

Mark Meadowcroft, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, Penn State College of Medicine

Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology

Christoph Irmscher, Provost Professor of English; George F. Getz Jr. Professor in the Wells Scholars Program, Indiana University Bloomington

Keith Pluymers, Howard E. and Susanne C. Jessen Postdoctoral Instructor in the Humanities, Caltech

Jennifer Tucker, Associate Professor of History and Science in Society Program; photographic and environmental historian; Wesleyan University

Catherine Jurca, Professor and Executive Officer of the Humanities, Caltech.

Shirley Roburn, McGill University

Heather Houser, Associate Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin

Robert Newman, President, National Humanities Center

Joseph Cook, Professor of Biology, University of New Mexico

Lynn Ramert, English instructor, University of Nebraska

Alexandra Lakind, PhD student in Environment & Resources.

Janet Pritchard, Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of Connecticut

Kency Cornejo, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of New Mexico

Jeffrey Terr, Undergraduate researcher, Biology Department, University of New Mexico

Scott Fraser, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and of Molecular and Computational Biology, and of Pediatrics, University of Southern California

Michael Hecht, Professor of Chemistry, Princeton University.

Vivian Halloran, Professor of English and American Studies, Indiana University

Roberto Salas, University of Texas El Paso MFA

Char Miller, W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis, Pomona College

Margaret Werner Washburne, Regents Professor emerita, Biology, University of New Mexico

Carolyn Kay, Professor, History Department, Trent University

Trevor Fristoe, Postdoctoral Researcher, Washington University in St. Louis

Lisa Tremaine, Art Director, University of New Mexico

Nina Karnovsky, Professor of Biology, Pomona College

Jonathan Wright, Professor of Biology, Pomona College

Scott Tremaine, Professor, School of Natural Sciences, Institute for Advanced Study

Paul Sutter, Professor of History, University of Colorado Boulder

Catherine Peters, Ph.D. Candidate, American Studies, Harvard University

Catherine Xu, Visiting Student in Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford

Douglas Sackman, Professor of History, University of Puget Sound

Reese Phillips, Adjunct Professor of Biology, University of New Mexico

Terry Tempest Williams, Writer-in-Residence, Harvard Divinity School

Kristine Johnson, Ph.D, Research Associate Professor of Biology, University of New Mexico

Karl Jacoby, Professor of History, Columbia University

Erika Doss, Professor, Department of American Studies, University of Notre Dame

Anthony Lioi, Associate Professor of English, The Juilliard School

Aaron Frith, Post-doctoral Researcher, Philosophy of Water Project, University of North Texas

Joe Gallegos, Graduate Student, Department of American Studies, University of New Mexico

Laura Kay, Professor of Physics, Barnard College

Stuart Schrader, Fellow, American History, Harvard University

Marsha Weisiger, Associate Professor of History, University of Oregon

Elizabeth Johnson, Distinguished Professor of Theology, Fordham University, New York City

Ivan Kreilkamp, Associate Professor, English, Indiana University

Adriene Jenik, Professor of Art/Intermedia, Arizona State University

Daniel Brotman, Adjunct Professor of Economics, Glendale College

Stephanie Rutherford, Associate Professor in the School of the Environment, Trent University

David Pengelley, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, New Mexico State University

Lillian Ball, Ecological art, visiting professor, Cooper Union School of Art

Piet Hut, Prof. of Astrophysics, Institute for Advanced Study

Terrence Gosliner, Senior Curator, California Academy of Sciences

Arlene Plevin, Professor of English, Olympic College.

Caddie Alford, Associate Instructor, Indiana University

Frank Zelko, Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Vermont

Rick Steiner, Professor, University of Alaska (ret.)

Ragini Bhow, M.F.A Candidate Art & Ecology, University of New Mexico

Ross MacPhee, Curator in Vertebrate Zoology/Mammalogy, American Museum of Natural History

Karla Armbruster, Professor of English, Webster University

Harvard Ayers, retired Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Sustainability, Appalachian State University

Ellen Babcock, Associate Professor, Department of Art, University of New Mexico

Nicole Seymour, Assistant Professor of English, California State University at Fullerton

William Goldsmith, Professor emeritus of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University

Elizabeth Nevada, Adjunct faculty – University of New Mexico Dance Program

Mark Stoll, Professor of History, Texas Tech University

Elizabeth Cullingford, Professor and Chair of English, University of Texas at Austin

Julianne Warren, Ecosphere Studies, Center for Humans and Nature

Julie Minich, Associate Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin

Jon Wlasiuk, Environmental historian, Michigan State University

David Stradling, Associate Dean of Humanities and Professor of History, University of Cincinnati

Phaedra C. Pezzullo, Associate Professor, Department of Communication, University of Colorado Boulder

Jon Corey Hazlett, PhD Candidate, Case Western Reserve University

Kathleen Segerson, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Economics, University of Connecticut

Catriona Sandilands, Professor of Environmental Studies, York University

James Morton Turner, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Wellesley College

Marit Munson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Trent University

Stephen Bocking, Professor of environmental policy and history, Trent University

Teal Arcadi, PhD Candidate, US History, Princeton University

Julia Grummitt, Ph.D Candidate, History Department, Princeton University

Kevin Siena, Assoc. Professor of History, Trent University

Grace Hale, Commonwealth Chair of American Studies and History, University of Virginia

Hilary Stamper, Visiting Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

Michael Sherwin, Associate Professor of Art, West Virginia University

Anne Coleman, Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Notre Dame

Parker Krieg, Postdoctoral Researcher, Environmental Humanities Program, University of Helsinki

Featured image is from Wikimedia Commons.

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