U.S. releases Record of Decision on Arctic Refuge drilling

August 17th 2020 (WHITEHORSE, YT) Today the U.S. Department of Interior released its Record of Decision, authorizing oil leasing on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The Arctic Refuge is the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, one of the world’s last great caribou herds, who migrate between Alaska and Canada each year. The Porcupine Caribou Herd sustains Gwich’in communities across northern Yukon, NWT and Alaska. If the Arctic Refuge is opened for drilling, it could have catastrophic impacts on the health of the herd, and the lives of the people who depend on them.

The Record of Decision closes the chapter on the U.S. Government’s environmental review of oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge, but drilling remains far from inevitable. The Record of Decision faces certain legal scrutiny, stemming from serious shortcomings in the environmental review of oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Refuge.

The move sets in motion the next phase in the U.S. Government’s push for Arctic Refuge drilling, which could culminate in a lease sale this year. “It’s upsetting, but unsurprising, that the U.S. Government released this decision to proceed with oil development in the Arctic Refuge,” said Chris Rider, Executive Director of the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS Yukon).

Of the over 1 million comments submitted on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, an estimated 99 percent opposed drilling. Over 15,oo0 Canadians and 500 Yukoners registered their support for protecting the Arctic Refuge, including many Gwich’in voices. In spite of this, the U.S. Government chose the most aggressive oil and gas leasing option possible: one that would open the entire Coastal Plain for leasing, and place the fewest limitations on drilling.

CPAWS Yukon is the only Canadian organization in the coalition of environmental and Indigenous groups that is working to defend the Arctic Refuge from oil and gas development. CPAWS Yukon has worked with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and Gwich’in Tribal Council to encourage Canadian participation throughout the environmental review process, and to urge Canada’s largest banks to withhold funding for Arctic Refuge drilling.

“It was inevitable that the Record of Decision would come out strongly in favour of drilling, and we are not surprised to see that they have recommended the most destructive scenario,” said Rider. “Fortunately the U.S. Government must abide by its own environmental laws and the environmental review of drilling in the Arctic Refuge is full of red flags. Our lawyers are currently reviewing the ROD and we are preparing for potential litigation.” Shortcomings include the U.S. Government’s failure to properly address impacts of drilling on the Porcupine caribou, or the Gwich’in communities that rely on the herd. The U.S. Department of Interior also refused calls to hold hearings in Canada.


Chris Rider | Executive Director, CPAWS Yukon
crider@cpawsyukon.org | Phone: 867 393 8080 | Cell: 867 332 5300