More Than 300 Scientists Oppose Arctic Refuge Drilling Plan

Scientists and resource managers cite deficits in government’s draft environmental impact statement on the proposed oil leasing program.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Dave Shaw

Washington, DC (March 7, 2019)—Today, 312 credentialed scientists, including many Arctic experts, are sending a letter to the US Department of the Interior opposing oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and specifically identifying flaws in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the proposed leasing program. The DEIS was published on December 20, 2018. Stan Senner, National Audubon Society’s VP for bird conservation, Dr. John Schoen, Board chair for Audubon Alaska and retired biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and other Alaska experts have reviewed the DEIS in detail and have written a 10-point letter to BLM identifying specific weaknesses in the agency’s data and assumptions that would have serious consequences for birds and other wildlife.

The letter now has more than 300 co-signers, including the Wildlife Conservation Society’s George Schaller, Ph.D. “I did biological surveys in what is now the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1952 and 1956 and again in 2006 and 2008,” said Schaller. “Having read the BLM draft environmental impact statement, I'm distressed and disconcerted by the lamentable lack of solid information about the potential impact of oil development on the landscape and on the flora and fauna. Where are recent data on trends in caribou numbers, polar bears, and migratory bird species?”

Highlights from the letter (read full letter here):   

1). The data supporting the DEIS are inadequate, which means resource managers won’t be able to document, prevent, or later mitigate damage to the tundra and its wildlife. Basic information missing includes snow depths and drifting patterns, river flows and hydrological systems, as well as, up-to-date surveys of wildlife populations including Tundra Swans, polar bears, muskox, and caribou.

2). The DEIS fails to account for the millions of gallons of water needed for drilling and building ice roads in assessing how oil development would impact the scarce water resources on the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain. This includes springs, icings, lakes, rivers and streams, and coastal lagoons that support the unique plant and animal life.

3). The DEIS is unrealistic about keeping inside the 2,000 acre limit on the area to be covered by production and support infrastructure. It fails to include gravel mines, ice roads, and elevated pipelines that would support operations. It treats “reclaimed” areas as untouched, on the unsupported assumption that after it’s been trampled and drilled, this fragile landscape could actually return to its pristine state.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was an idea born of science—from scientists in Alaska who understood the importance of protecting this portion of the US Arctic,” commented Audubon Alaska’s executive director, Natalie Dawson, Ph.D. “This letter is an incredible gathering of diverse voices from across today’s scientific community who still recognize the Refuge as a place worth protecting.”

A total of 312 scientists from the District of Columbia and 37 US states, as well as, Canada, Norway, and Japan have all signed-on to the letter. 73 of the scientists are from Alaska.  

About Audubon

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more how to help at and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.

Since 1977, Audubon Alaska's mission is to conserve the spectacular natural ecosystems of the state, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. Audubon Alaska uses science to identify conservation priorities and support conservation actions and policies, with an emphasis on public lands and waters. Audubon Alaska is a state office of the National Audubon Society. Learn more at

Media Contacts

Anne Singer, Director, Policy Communications, National Audubon Society,, 202.271.4679  

Rebecca Sentner, Communications Manager, Audubon Alaska,, 907.276.7034


How you can help, right now