In recent news, Donald Trump has begun a push to start off-shore drilling for oil in Alaska. After losing the election, Trump has made some questionable choices, such as choosing to open up bidding for reserves in the American Arctic. However, this plan has been brewing for a long time. During his time as President, Barack Obama enforced protection over the Arctic, emphasizing the precarious place the Arctic was in due to climate change. He started the Arctic Council and attended the GLACIER conference, pledging that the USA would take international action to prevent climate change in the Arctic. For many years, Republicans have sought to drill in the Arctic, though these efforts had been blocked due to Democrat control in Congress. In 2016, with the beginning of the Trump administration, the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.
Since the Trump administration came to power, many Obama-era protections have been dismantled. Trump has opened up areas of the Arctic for drilling and oil extraction. Areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Chukchi Sea, and a large area of the Beaufort Sea, are thought to contain large reservoirs of oil. Trump has tried to speed up the sale of these areas, with bidding closing on December 31st, in order to begin before the Presidency change. However, it seems that there are not going to be many takers as there are many economic problems with drilling in the Arctic due to high levels of ice and the lack of infrastructure to properly drill for oil.
In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the government approval of project Liberty (a project that would allow the company Hilcorp to create an artificial drilling island in the Arctic), citing that they failed to consider the Endangered Species Act. While this is a win for animals and locals whose lives would be threatened, the Trump Administration still continues to push to search for oil in the Arctic. Selling leases to the highest bidder before the Biden Administration comes into office will make it more difficult for President-Elect Joe Biden to put his plans of Arctic conservation into effect.
Bidding on ANWR began January 6th with only 12 of 22 tracts (areas of land) bidded on. The majority of these tracts were only bidded on by the state of Alaska itself. Trump only received 16 bids, with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority being the sole bidder on at least 8 of the tracts, and 3 bids being deemed incomplete. It’s unclear what will happen next, and whether these bids will make it harder for Biden to implement his plan to protect the Arctic.
Why Drilling in the Arctic is Harmful
There are many animals that are native to the Arctic and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Many of these animals are already endangered due to increasing climate change. The Arctic is warming at an alarming rate, melting the ice and causing large expanses of water to develop that seriously impact the way these animals live and hunt for food. The animals in the Arctic can only live in certain temperatures and conditions;once they lose this habitat they will become extinct. Climate change already adversely affects the Arctic, so drilling for oil would only increase the rate at which the ice is melting. Oil drilling infrastructure would have to be built, interrupting the migration patterns of large mammals, and introducing heavy noise and air/water pollution.
The destructive nature of offshore and onshore drilling will also impact the lives of the Indigenous peoples who live there. The Gwich’in and Iñupiat Indigenous communities have been living on the ANWR of Alaska for generations upon generations; their lifestyle depends on the abundance of certain animals, largely water-based but some land animals as well. These Indigenous communities have learned to live on this land in a sustainable way, but the loss of species and habitat destruction due to oil drilling will change the way they live, possibly leading to higher death rates as a result of food shortage and increased health problems because of pollution.
The Arctic is one of the most intact ecosystems on the planet, containing 270 species: about 200 species of birds, 3 species of bears, whales, caribou and many species of seals. It is one of the most undisturbed nature spots on Earth and deserves to stay that way. It is also one of the few places where Indigenous culture has been maintained, and all Arctic Indigenous communities have the right to continue living.
Why Trump Isn’t the End
America is not the only one with land in the Arctic. The Arctic borders 8 different countries, and out of those, most are still dependent on fossil fuels. Additionally, with climate change effects increasing, the ice in the Arctic is melting, making way for more trade routes to be opened now that boats can fit through the Arctic waters. With demand for fossil fuels rising and our supply of fossil fuels ever-decreasing, it’s only a matter of time before we turn to the Arctic to fill in the gaps. The Arctic is environmentally essential to life on Earth. By drilling in the Arctic, the effects of climate change are amplified, and we will lose a very important resource.