The Episcopal Church opposes the oil and gas lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that occurred on Wednesday, January 6th, 2021. Oil and gas drilling in the Refuge threatens the traditional existence of the Gwich’in people—many of whom are Episcopalian—and has failed to deliver on its promises of economic prosperity. Less than one percent of the projected $1.8 billion lease sale revenue was generated: only $14.4 million.
Sparse industry interest undercuts arguments that developing the Arctic Refuge will lead to long-term economic prosperity for Alaskans. Only half the available tracts received bids, and all but two were from the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which must find interested sublessors to develop its tracts. The highly unusual bids from a state-owned entity were spurred by last-minute, well-founded fears of scant industry interest and the reassurance that Alaska will receive half the lease sale revenue generated, essentially allowing the state to purchase leases at half-price.
The Episcopal Church acknowledges that the oil and gas industry plays a critical role in Alaska’s economy and that not all Alaska Native groups are of a single mind about drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Yet drilling in the Arctic Refuge will harm members of our Episcopal Indigenous community and cause irreparable damage to a pristine wilderness area without creating the economic benefits that were promised. The Church has supported the Gwich’in people with other coalition partners for decades to advocate for a more just and sustainable use of the Arctic Refuge (Resolution 1991-D125).
We call on Congress and the incoming Biden administration to permanently protect the Arctic Refuge, honor Indigenous rights and sacred spaces, and invest in sustainable economic development for Alaskan communities. Oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge fails to accomplish these aims.