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These 15 Unique Wild Lands Are Threatened By Extractive Industries

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These 15 Unique Wild Lands Are Threatened By Extractive Industries
Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of 15 threatened wild places profiled in "Too Wild To Drill." Florian Schulz

A new report released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society raises the alarm about wild lands threatened by extractive industries eager to exploit the resources on or underneath them, including oil, gas and coal.

Too Wild To Drill identifies 15 unique places found on public lands that are at high risk of drilling, mining and other development—and the damage and destruction that inevitably follow. These lands provide Americans with important benefits such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and jobs and other socioeconomic benefits.


"Some places are simply too wild to drill," said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. "The federal government must resist pressure from energy companies and other special interests to open up our last remaining wild places for development."

Energy development damages landscapes, often permanently. Impacts resulting from infrastructure like well pads, oil rigs, roads, fences and pipelines include air and water pollution from haze, spills, chemicals and dust, as well as phenomena like industrial traffic, gas flares and other light pollution, and loud noise that can disrupt communities and wildlife.

The Wilderness Society issues a new version of Too Wild To Drill every few years to call attention to vulnerable places on public lands. The release of this edition falls in the midst of numerous reviews of public lands policies, ordered by President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary, taking place behind closed doors with little or no public oversight or accountability.

In fact, earlier this week news broke of the Trump administration's secret efforts to roll back protections for several wild places featured in the report, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments, presumably to make them available for energy development.

"The Interior Department is required by Congress to manage, on behalf of the American people, almost 450 million acres of public lands for many different purposes, not just energy extraction," Williams said. "Yet oil, gas and coal have long had an outsized influence—and footprint—on public lands. It is long past time that we take some of these lands off the table."

Energy companies already have more leases than they can apparently use. Of the 27 million acres currently under lease to oil and gas companies—an area about the size of Tennessee—more than half are sitting idle. And the coal industry already has 20 years of reserves under lease on public lands.

While oil, gas and coal companies and their activities have an indisputably disproportionate influence on public lands, other imminent threats to treasured public lands identified by Too Wild To Drill include uranium and sulfide-ore copper mining and groundwater extraction.

This month also marks the end of the 180-day review period established by President Trump's "Energy Independence and Economic Growth" Executive Order. The directive requires federal agencies to review any regulations that could "potentially burden" fossil fuel development. The Trump administration is known for its close ties to the extractive industries.

"We must set aside our wildest, most pristine places for future generations to enjoy," Williams said. "Selling out our public lands for short-term profit should not be an option for these special places. Once they're gone, we can never get them back."

Colette Pichon Battle, attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. Colette Pichon Battle

By Karen L. Smith-Janssen

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