John Spezia: Protect Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling |

John Spezia: Protect Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling

A little more than a year ago, the GOP tax bill was passed, mandating oil and gas development in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge despite the long history of bipartisan opposition to drilling there.

Protecting this special place has been a decades-long rallying cry for Americans concerned with preserving our nation’s shared natural heritage and biodiversity. Despite this support, the Refuge’s coastal plain is now on the fast-track for oil and gas drilling and industrialization.

I am one of those Americans who not only want to preserve the Refuge, but I have personally been a witness to the Refuge on a month-long journey into the very heart of it. We paddled its rivers and along the Arctic Ocean’s coast, climbed glaciated peaks, fished its headwaters and made mountain crossings into high remote valleys where Dall sheep, caribou and barren land grizzlies live.

The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest intact ecosystems in the world, nestled between the Arctic Ocean to the north and the glacial peaks of the Brooks Range to the south. The unique and delicate coastal plain provides the most important onshore denning habitat for the endangered polar bears in the United States and is home to an incredible array of wildlife, including the Porcupine caribou herd, wolves, muskoxen, Arctic fox, grizzly bear, snowy owls and 200 migratory bird species.

The Gwich’in Nation has depended on the Refuge and the Porcupine caribou herd for millennia, and the tribe’s very survival hinges on an undisturbed coastal plain and healthy caribou population. Yet, despite the tremendously important ecological and cultural significance of this wild place, Congress and the Trump administration are pushing the facts aside and rushing forward to open the Refuge to oil and gas development.   

This is a short-sighted project because the Refuge will only produce enough oil to supply 320 days of driving for all the vehicles in the United States, and then it’s gone. And that is assuming that they don’t export it to other countries … so much for the rhetoric that defends our oil and gas extraction in the name of energy independence.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has released a draft Environmental Impact Statement in preparation for holding an oil and gas lease sale later this year. The comment period for the EIS ends on Feb. 11. Please submit your comments via

John Spezia

Steamboat Springs

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