Cantwell To GOP: Kill Your Dishonest Plan To Drill In The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Senator points to flimsy economic rationale, irreparable environmental damage to pristine arctic ecosystem

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-WA), in a hearing on the GOP’s latest attempt to sell out the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil industry, exposed the dishonest Republican argument that drilling would generate enough revenue to overcome budget deficits while leaving the fragile arctic ecosystem undisturbed.  

“We’re here today because someone has come up with a ludicrous idea that we can pass a tax reform bill that raises the deficit, increases our taxes and that will take a wildlife refuge to do it,” said Senator Cantwell. “I almost want to call this caribou for millionaires, because it is the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard.”

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest protected tract of unspoiled refuge in America. The 1.56 million-acre Coastal Plain is the biological heart of the Refuge and supports more than 250 species, including caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, muskoxen, wolverines, and migratory birds.

While Congressional Republicans argue that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will result in revenues of $1 billion, data from previous Arctic oil lease sales suggest the U.S. is more likely to collect only $145.5 million over the next decade.

“With their 1.7 billion acres they [the Trump administration] want on the Outer Continental Shelf, and many other places in America, I find it hard to believe that there will be the economic incentive to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Why put a big “X” on top of something that has been so unique to the United States of America?” said Senator Cantwell. 

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge— encompassing the last pristine, intact arctic ecosystem in North America— should not be sacrificed for industrial oil and gas development. While drilling proponents falsely claim that drilling can be done without significant impact on the environment, there is no doubt that allowing oil and gas development will permanently change the fundamental nature of the refuge’s Coastal Plain. 

“There’s no new science that says we don’t have to worry about this wildlife. And there is no new science that says that the oil development will take up a smaller footprint…The notion that wildlife can exist in this unique environment in the same way with this development is just wrong,” said Senator Cantwell. 

“There have been something like 640 oil spills in Alaska’s North Slope since 1995 including 13 spills of over 10,000 gallons. Since 2009, tens of thousands of gallons of oil and drilling fluids have spilled in the North Slope as a result of those operations. In 2000, British Petroleum was ordered to pay $22 million in civil and criminal penalties because it illegally disposed of hazardous waste containing benzene and other toxic chemicals,” Senator Cantwell continued. “And in 2011, BP Exploration Alaska was ordered to pay $25 million in civil penalties for spilling an estimated 213,000 gallons of crude oil from its pipelines onto the North Slope.”

On November 1, 2017, Senator Cantwell in a letter to Secretary Zinke asked whether “oil and gas development will ‘conserve fish and wildlife populations in their natural diversity?’” The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was specifically created to protect the pristine habitats of iconic species like the polar bear, musk ox, and caribou.

During the hearing, Senator Cantwell asked Pat Pourchot, Former Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior for Alaska Affairs, “Whether this wildlife refuge in its purpose that it was created for, can coexist with oil development on the refuge. Can it, yes or no?” In response, Pat Pourchot stated, “I would answer no.”

“What I object to besides the sham process that we’ve been going through here to just hurry this through with 51 votes, is that it just ought to be clear. If people want to open the wildlife refuge, you should just admit you are going to destroy the wildlife refuge. You can’t sit here and tell our colleagues and try to deny by stacking the hearing, and not giving us information, and not having the scientists, that somehow that’s not the case, because it is,” said Senator Cantwell. “So you can decide you don’t want the refuge, I disagree. I think it is one of the most unbelievable things that we have on planet earth, not just the United States, on planet earth, it is that intact…I agree with the Gwich’in people that it’s spiritual, it is spiritual, and we should preserve it.” 

Watch Senator Cantwell’s opening statement here.

Witness testimony will be available online immediately before the start of each hearing at on committee website.