Biden Administration Proposes to Allow Oil Companies to Disturb Polar Bears, Walruses in Alaska’s Arctic

For Immediate Release, May 28, 2021

Featured image: Arctic polar bear with cubs. (Credit: USFWS)

Contact: Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137, kmonsell@biologicaldiversity.org


ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The Biden administration issued a proposed rule today allowing oil companies operating in the Beaufort Sea and Western Arctic to harass polar bears and Pacific walruses when drilling or searching for oil for the next five years.

“It’s maddening to see the Biden administration allowing oil companies to continue their noisy, harmful onslaught on polar bears. Oil in this sensitive habitat should stay in the ground,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “President Biden promised bold action to address the climate crisis, yet his administration is proposing to allow business-as-usual oil drilling in the Arctic. Polar bears and walruses could pay a terrible price.”

The Southern Beaufort Sea population is the most imperiled polar bear population in the world. With only about 900 bears remaining, scientists have determined that the survival of every individual bear is vital to the survival and recovery of the population.

The heavy equipment used in seismic exploration and drilling activities can crush polar bears in their dens or scare polar bears out of their dens too early, leaving cubs to die of exposure or abandonment by their mothers. The noise generated by routine operations can disturb essential polar bear behavior and increase their energy output.

Walruses are also incredibly sensitive to human disturbance. Without summer sea ice for resting, walrus mothers and calves have been forced to come ashore, where they are vulnerable to being trampled to death in stampedes when startled by noise.

In addition to seismic exploration, the rule covers construction and operation of roads, pipelines, runways, and other support facilities. It also covers well drilling, drill rig transport, truck and helicopter traffic, and other activities.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act generally prohibits killing, harming or harassing a marine mammal. The statute allows the federal government to authorize certain industrial activities to harm and harass marine mammals, provided such activities will take only a “small number” of animals and have no more than a “negligible impact” on the population.

The proposed rule covers existing and planned activities across a wide swath of Alaska’s Arctic, including 7.9 million acres in the Beaufort Sea, and onshore activities from Point Barrow to the western boundary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It includes the Willow development project that the Center and allies have challenged in court, and which the Biden administration this week submitted a brief defending.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be accepting public comment on the proposed rule for 30 days.


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

6 thoughts on “Biden Administration Proposes to Allow Oil Companies to Disturb Polar Bears, Walruses in Alaska’s Arctic”

  1. I was momentarily confused, having seen a New York Times headline yesterday that said, “White House plans to suspend Arctic drilling leases” (underscoring the “Green Joe” image). The 1st paragraph of the story, however, added that this only applied to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — a relatively small part of the Arctic. (At least Biden’s propaganda machine is working.)

    At the risk of my FBI file being reopened, it’s worth noting that if any other species were harassing an endangered species — coyotes, for instance, howling, encircling, and digging around a black-footed ferret’s den — it would be fairly routine for wildlife management to declare the coyotes a nuisance, and shoot them. Likewise, feral cats have been exterminated for preying on rare birds in California’s Channel Islands.

    How, then, are the employees of an oil company, based in California or Texas, and harassing wildlife in the Alaska Arctic, not an invasive species, and a nuisance? They’re trying to dig up, process, and burn a substance that will accelerate catastrophic climate change and a mass extinction, while directly threatening polar bears and walruses. And oilfield workers from the Lower 48 certainly are not native to the Arctic.

    Hypothetically speaking, of course, what would be the argument for not eradicating such invasive and destructive creatures?

    1. The argument is that we’re human and we’re all that really matters. That’s the attitude of the vast majority of humans, based on their actions and regardless of what they say to the contrary.

  2. Biden was from the beginning a liar and hypocrite who scammed liberals once again. The media made the world hate Trump to put this snide snake in the White House. While Trump would be no better on environmental policies he was at least direct and blatantly bombastically clear about that, although he did ban corporations from taking over the birth lake inb Alaska of the salmon, the largest salmon industry in the world. No he did not do it forenvironmental reasons, like mealy mouth Bid3en would have said if he had done it, but for the American salmon corporations. the fishermen have been battling this for 10 years and had lost hope until Trump stopped the kidnapping of this lake for salmon to birth in thereby driving them toextinction as they must give birth where they were birthed and they must be able to get back there. No one gave him a dime’s worth of cr3edit for doing it even tho his reasons were not moral. Vuyt then McLuhan, who hated abortion rights, said that you must not use morality to get rid of bad laws or you cannot win.

    1. Anyone who thinks that they’re progressive and doesn’t realize that the Democrats are just as much the enemy as the Republicans is politically lost.

      Both of these parties are bad on the environment, but the Republicans are more blatantly hostile to and destructive of it. Trump shrank National Monuments to allow extractive industries to operate on the land, for example (Bears Ears and Staricase/Escalante in Utah, are prime examples).

  3. Decisions like this should be all anyone needs to see in order to realize how bad both of these evil parties are. Obama was horrible on the environment — he restarted the war on wolves and tried multiple times to drill for oil in the Arctic, for example — and Biden is going to be awful also. Environmental problems will not be solved by electing anyone, that’s as clear as it can be.

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