Gwich’in Steering Committee Statement on Directional Drilling

February 23, 2021

The Gwich’in Steering Committee has learned that one of the new holders of a lease in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may extract oil from the Coastal Plain by drilling directionally into the land from state land. As the Coastal Plain is the sacred land of the Gwich’in and the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the Gwich’in Steering Committee opposes all forms of development and calls on Regenerate Alaska and its parent company, 88 Energy, to halt its plans.

Any form of drilling in the Coastal Plain is dangerous, risky, and unpopular. The Gwich’in are united against any development of the Coastal Plain because the land is sacred and vitally important to the Porcupine Caribou, which sustains our communities. The lease program has been paused by the Biden administration because of its potentially disastrous environmental impacts, and is currently being challenged in the courts by four different lawsuits. Drilling in the Coastal Plain also has little public support, is being investigated by the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and all major U.S. and Canadian banks have pledged not to fund any development in the Refuge. 

Directional drilling from state land does not solve these issues or lessen the environmental impact of oil extraction on the region. Directional drilling presents many of the same problems as conventional drilling because it requires similar infrastructure: drill rigs, well pads, runways, roads, pipelines, and other supportive infrastructure. Because it has a limited range, directional drilling also relies on extensive seismic testing, which is extremely disruptive to the environment and harmful to plants and animals. There are also the same risks of spills or accidents that can devastate the local environment. Regenerate Alaska cannot avoid negative impacts on the Coastal Plain simply by beginning the destruction on state land.

As the Gwich’in Steering Committee stated in a letter to David Wall and Regenerate Alaska last month, going forward with any development is not only an unwise financial decision but shows blatant disrespect for the Gwich’in and other Alaska Native communities. The Gwich’in Steering Committee calls on Regenerate Alaska to halt all plans to develop the Coastal Plain, including those related to directional drilling, and to relinquish its leases. Doing so would show respect for the rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska and recognition of the serious material, reputational and human rights risks arising from development of the Coastal Plain.

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