How much will we lose when the drills come to The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this fall?

Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is perhaps the wildest place in the U.S.—a massive, untouched and fragile wilderness that plays a vital role in ecosystems around the globe. And this fall, for the first time since oil was discovered beneath its surface, the Department of Interior is set to start leasing it off, piece by piece, to oil and gas interests. What will be lost?

1.5 million acres: The size of the “1002 Area,” (aka the Northern Slope, or the Arctic Plains), the extremely sensitive wildlife corridor where the vast majority of the Porcupine herd’s calving grounds are located. It’s also the very specific region of ANWR that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act opened up for drilling activities in 2017.

photo by Greg Balkin

5 : The number of First People tribes that have survived off of the Porcupine Caribou Herd for hundreds of years, relying on the animal’s yearly migration for resources. The Gwich’in culture counts profoundly on Porcupine caribou as their primary source of food. But it’s also an important asset to Inupiat, Inuvialuit, the Hän and Northern Tutchone cultures, all communities built on and along the migratory route of the caribou. Should caribou numbers decline, the lives of many Natives will change drastically for the first time in centuries. 

0.4–1.2 percent: The minimal impact on global oil prices that opening up  ANWR will produce by 2030. “Consequently, ANWR oil production is not projected to have a large impact on world oil prices,” reads the Energy Information Administration’s Analysis of Crude Oil Production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Not to mention, OPEC says an economic effect could be achieved simply by reducing oil exports by an equal amount.

1,500: The mileage that the Porcupine caribou herd migrates every year. This herd makes a non-stop circle from their calving and birthing grounds (in the “1002 Area” in ANWR, aka the Northern Slope or the Coastal Plain), to the Porcupine River, to the Ogivile and Richardson Mountains in the Yukon, to the Southern Brooks Range in Alaska. It is the longest migratory route of any land mammal.

2017: The year ANWR was legally opened to drilling, as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, to be sold off, one land lease at a time to oil and natural gas companies. President Donald Trump publicly stated at a GOP congressional retreat that originally he had no personal interest in opening up ANWR for resource extraction. But when a friend of his “who’s in that world and in that business” explained that it was something Republicans had been trying to do for decades, he had it included in the 2017 act.

218,000: The number of caribou in the Porcupine herd, an ancient mass of antlered beasts that has been engaged in an ongoing clockwise migration since the last ice age—and currently this herd is at its largest size on record. These animals represent a vital pillar of the natural ecosystems and the livelihoods of the people that live in ANWR. The Porcupine’s numbers have been steadily growing between two to three percent since 2010. Its last peak was in 1989 (at 178,000 animals) and then the Porcupine Herd experienced a decline that bottomed out in 2001 (at 123,000 animals).

1960: The year that ANWR was established by the U.S. Congress to protect the vast biodiversity and extremely sensitive ecosystems that have been thriving here for thousands and thousands of years.

1987: Year the U.S. and Canadian governments signed the “Agreement on the Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Act” a treaty that was meant to protect these animals, their environment and their migratory routes from being damaged by oil and gas interests.

30,136: The total square mileage of ANWR. It stretches from the Canadian border west to the Canning River, and from the Arctic Ocean south for thousands of miles. It encompasses boreal forests, high alpine mountain ranges, the Arctic foothills, the coastal plain, coastal lagoons, rivers and river deltas, barrier islands and the Arctic Ocean itself, all in one single protected unit.

SIX: Continents from which birds migrate to reach ANWR in the summer to nest. Months later, when winter approaches, they all pick up and fly off to places like Malaysian Borneo, Africa or Central and South America.