Photo credits: NPS

By: Kassel Franco Garibay

There is a proposed tax bill that includes a provision that would allow commercial oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Environmental activist groups state that drilling in the refuge will most likely affect a main calving ground for the Porcupine caribou herd; this herd is between 120 and 200 thousand animals; it is the largest and healthiest herd in North America. The Porcupine herd is one of the only ones that has not experienced a significant decrease in their population, but scientists worry that drilling in their habitat will lead to the herd shrinking.

If this bill becomes law, there will be two oil lease sales that will allow drilling in the 635 thousand hectare coastal area over the next 7 years. This has been a proposal the Republicans have been pushing for over 30 years. According to Science Magazine, the plan also could allow drilling on an additional 40 thousand hectares of refuge that is controlled by Native Alaskan corporations, meaning potential direct and indirect impacts on tens of thousands of acres.

The effect that drilling would have on caribous has been confirmed since researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey have found that caribou tend to avoid areas in a 14-kilometers radius surrounding diamond mines. Further research has proven that even decades after, in certain Porcupine caribou-populated areas in Canada the animals will continue to avoid areas where there has been oil drilling.

Climate change and hunting are two other factors that greatly impact the size and health of the herd. While scientists remain unsure of how significant the losses will be, activists will continue to advocate for a government that cari-(a)bou(t) the environment.

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