Recent auctions for drilling in the Arctic Refuge raise concern and debate

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, the Trump Administration followed through with an auction to open up vast amounts of the once protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge territory to oil development and oil drilling leases. This oil development plan will consume nearly 80% of the refuge, in an effort to utilize Alaska’s energy potential as well as provide economic support for the nation. 

Drilling in the coastal plain has been a controversial topic for around 40 years, but the Trump administration pushed to make their final impact before the inauguration of President Joe Biden on Jan. 20. This sale attracted only three bidders due to low oil prices and an increased resentment from the public in regards to drilling companies. Although only three bids were made in this auction, 480,000 acres of land were picked up. Biden was officially placed in office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, and his team stated that they are imposing a temporary moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing activities in the Arctic Refuge. The Biden Administration along with the Georgia democratic senators have openly stated that they support permanent protection of this refuge. In order to officially prevent this last minute drilling auction, Biden must examine the validity of these leases and the legality of Trump’s process when issuing them, while also dealing with those who feel the drilling will bring economic and political benefits. 

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ARWN), is home to a wide variety of animals including polar bears, grizzly bears, moose, caribou, migratory birds, etc. Alaska is being met with large amounts of pushback after the state of Alaska ruled in favor of the drilling proposal. 

Students and faculty in the San Marin community have expressed extreme concern, thinking that the window is closing in terms of saving the planet from global warming and climate change effects. 

“We have the technology that allows us to not need to rely on oil anymore, especially drilling for oil in places like the arctic wildlife refuge that contains biodiversity and habitats for different species,” AP Environmental Science teacher Melissa Havel said. “The drilling will be nothing but harmful, and I plan my travels around what may not be there for my son to see someday; I want to take him to see the Great Barrier Reef before it is gone in 10 to 20 years.” 

One of the smaller companies (Regenerate Alaska) that placed a bid on this land argued that they will be taking a soft entry into the arctic by entering on the western edge. They claim that they will make sure the process is safe and that they are only trying to make money for the state, themselves, and its people. That statement was not enough for those who oppose this deal.  

Havel stated that one of the reasons she loves teaching AP Environmental Science is because it gives students the education that they need to make a real impact on the world. Her students have the ability to make informed decisions on these matters, and one came forward with his thoughts regarding the ARWN.

“The drilling can have serious effects on the ecosystem and surrounding area, for example, the vibrations caused by the process can disrupt the orcas and other native sea creatures in the area, oftentimes forcing them to migrate,” junior Owen Hansen said. “I believe that it is our duty as humans to protect these animals and ecosystems.”

Science teachers, students, and doctors have all expressed genuine concern for the future of the planet, and many individuals have emphasized the vital role that the younger generation will play in saving the climate from the state it is currently in. 

“If nothing changes soon, there will definitely be noticeable and drastic changes geographically and in lifestyles,” head of San Marin’s environmental club, junior Rowena Gonzalez said. “It is an endless cycle of the younger generation being stuck with the mess of the previous one, and if nothing changes, we might very well have to face the path we have chosen.” 

People that oppose drilling in the ARWN have shown relief in regards to Biden’s election into presidency. It is known that he does not support this auction, which many have felt is a step in the right direction for the climate. These same people have also criticized the Trump Administration for rushing this new deal and uprooting some of the progress that was made prior to his four-year presidency. Politics plays a large role in environmental conservation, and the San Marin community has different organizations, clubs, and classes implemented to educate and inform the youth about what is going on. 

“Early last year, the clean waters protection act implemented by Obama was rolled back by Trump, making it legal in many ways to dump pollutants into the water,” Gonzalez said. “I am worried that some of our leaders are more concerned about their pockets than the welfare of citizens.” 

Hansen stated similar feelings, as he mentioned his excitement surrounding Biden’s plan to re-enter the Paris Climate Accord, but many people feel as though these reversals are not enough to combat the issues at hand. 

“Luckily Biden has plenty of plans to undo Trump’s attacks on the environment such as re-entering the Paris Climate Accord, but we definitely need more than that,” Hansen said. “There are things we can do, such as reducing our carbon footprint, picking up trash, and not disturbing untouched ecosystems around us.” 

By drilling into the Arctic Refuge, opposers feel that it is yet another step backward in the battle against carbon dioxide emissions, fossil fuels, and global warming. The City of Novato’s Sustainability Coordinator, Gretchen Schubeck, is in charge of change management, environmental awareness, strategic planning, and other important roles. She shared her thoughts regarding climate change, while also stating how individuals can make a difference. 

“Fossil fuels are not the answer, and the sooner we can move away from extracting fossil fuels from our land and moving towards green solutions the better,” Schubeck said. “Trying to eat as local as possible, trying to eat a plant rich diet, and reducing the amount of food waste that we produce, are a few examples of really easy things that everyone can do. If we all work together to achieve these small goals, we can make a large impact.” 

Courtesy of Alex de Vries-Magnifico

One of the Polar Bear’s natural habitats is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This land is in the midst of  being auctioned off by the Trump Administration for oil and gas drilling. 

Author: Maeve O'Brien

Reporter Maeve O'Brien is a junior and a member of the social media team. Her hobbies include travelling, spending time with friends, and swimming. A fun fact is that she has had three knee surgeries!

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