Yukon’s MP wants Canada to do whatever it can to stop drilling from happening inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area that is critical to the Porcupine caribou herd.
“This herd could be devastated to extinction by potential oil drilling in ANWR, now being discussed in the United States,” Larry Bagnell told the House of Commons on Thursday.
The 169,000-animal Porcupine caribou herd travels through the Yukon and Northwest Territories each year to use part of the Alaskan refuge as calving grounds.
Bagnell called the herd the “soul” of the Gwich’in people.
“The life blood, the spiritual survival, the culture, the food and the clothes of the Gwich’in people in Yukon, NWT, and Alaska have for eons been integrally connected to the Porcupine caribou herd.”
The fight over whether to drill in the refuge dates back decades.
The calving area, known as the 1002 area, is thought to hold massive amounts of oil. One estimate says that area alone could have between 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
Those who want to protect the refuge say drilling would disrupt the herd.
The calving grounds are a safe place with high quantities of nutrients for young caribou, said Joe Tetlichi, chair of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board.
“If they start drilling there you take away their feeding ground,” he said.
“We have a herd that is remarkably strong right now and if you take most of their feeding areas away it could detrimentally hurt the caribou.”
Alaskan Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski has already said she plans to renew her efforts to bring drilling to ANWR, Bagnell told the News following his speech.
The two discussed it at a meeting of Arctic politicians last week.
“She confirmed that when the new president got sworn in in January she would again be trying to get drilling in the Arctic refuge,” he said.
Both Bagnell and Tetlichi say the recent American election, which saw Republicans take control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as the presidency under Donald Trump, has created a new political landscape for fighting to protect ANWR.
Each of those political bodies has veto power if someone were to try and pass a bill to allow drilling in ANWR. In the past, attempts to start drilling have been vetoed by Democrats.
Bagnell said he’s written to the Democratic caucus chair in the Senate, hoping Democrats could filibuster any efforts to bring drilling to ANWR.
He’s reached out to the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs hoping they will lobby in support of ANWR.
It’s also possible that outgoing President Barack Obama could protect the area from drilling by turning it into a national monument before he leaves office.
Bagnell acknowledged that might not happen.
“Often, lame duck presidents don’t make major decisions,” he said.
In a statement, Environment Yukon said the department will continue to work with governments on both sides of the border “towards ensuring that we protect the land that the herd relies upon at a critical time in their life cycle.”
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