NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Wildlife and Oil Drilling

February 23, 2001

With the debate heating up over the prospects of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling, it may be helpful to review how drilling has coexisted with wildlife in other federal refuges.

  • From Alaska to North Dakota to Louisiana, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permits oil and gas exploration or production at 29 of its 530 refuges -- with the number of wells now totaling 1,400.
  • Although there have been some small oil spills in the 400,000-acre Delta National Wildlife Refuge, for example, only about 40 to 80 acres of marsh in the Louisiana refuge have been affected -- with no harm to wildlife, authorities say.
  • That record is roughly comparable with those of other refuges where oil and gas activity is underway -- with no major spills or widespread death of wildlife in recent memory, wildlife officials report.
  • Even the Audubon Society has condoned drilling in wildlife refuges -- and, until 1999, even permitted oil and gas production on a private refuge it owns on the Louisiana coast.

In the last 10 years, the wildlife agency has collected about $1 million in fees from oil companies -- and that has been enough to help the agency recover more than 1,000 acres in wetlands, or 10 times the amount lost to energy operations in the period.

Source: Douglas Jehl, "Wildlife and Derricks Coexist But the Question Is the Cost," New York Times, February 20, 2001.  


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