The US Senate again heard arguments on Thursday for and against potential oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would threaten the survival of the Porcupine caribou herd on which Gwich’in Nation members depend.
The hearings are led by Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. A budget measure approved by the Republican majority Congress allows legislators to put in place laws for the exploration of natural gas and oil in the wildlife sanctuary.
Alaska’s independent governor, Bill Walker, is proposing to allow drilling on only one section of the reserve, totaling nearly eight million hectares. Drilling, he said, would create thousands of jobs and “significantly enhance national security and international influence while fully protecting the wildlife and environment of the coastal plain.”
Alaska, he said, has proven in the last 50 years his ability to “successfully and safely develop” oil development in lands near the reserve.
Lobbying in Washington
For several years, representatives of the Gwich’in Nation, from Alaska to the Northwest Territories to the Yukon, have been going to Washington to lobby politicians.
Sam Alexander, an Alaskan Gwich’in, sees these new hearings as “a political maneuver to open up something that Republicans want to open for decades, but there is now greater recognition that change climate is real, it has an impact on Alaska and that continuing to drill is not a solution to these problems.”
Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski acknowledged in Finland last week that climate change is real and has an impact on that state.
Sam Alexander, also an Alaskan representative of the Gwich’in International Council, believes that drilling in this part of the US state represents an uncertain investment for the oil companies, since a change of direction at the White House could one day endanger the efforts already made.
The current administration can say what it wants, but it is not the market makers. […] The market does not seem to be in favor of drilling in the reserve.
Sam Alexander, Gwich’in of Alaska
Democrat Senator Maria Cantwell also opposes drilling, arguing that the risks to the ecosystem outweigh the benefits. In addition to the Porcupine caribou herd, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to a variety of wildlife, including polar bears and migratory birds.
The struggle over the protection of the reserve has been going on for more than 30 years. The administration of President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress seek by drilling to fund tax cuts.