Alaska Native tribes and 15 U.S. states file suits to stop oil drilling in Arctic refuge

Three Alaska tribal entities on Wednesday sued the Trump administration to stop the federal government’s first-ever oil and gas lease sale in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Neets’aii Gwich’in tribes of Venetie and Arctic Village named Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and several federal agencies in the suit, filed in federal district court in Alaska.

The Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government, the Arctic Village Council and the Venetie Village Council, represented by the Native American Rights Fund, filed the lawsuit to protect important traditional resources there, such as the caribou that are sought after by subsistence hunters.

They challenge Bernhardt’s signing last month that finalized a plan that puts all available land, or 1.6 million acres in the coastal plain, on the table for possible leasing after Congress in 2017 agreed to open the area to drilling.

[The federal government will hold an ANWR lease sale. But drilling would be more than a decade away.]

Bernhardt and multiple federal agencies failed to conduct a full analysis of the impacts of drilling on Venetie and Arctic Village, and erred in determining that large-scale oil and gas development in the coastal plain would have no significant impacts on the villages, the tribes assert in the lawsuit.

The villages are located south of ANWR, more than 400 miles north of Anchorage.


“The cultural identity of the Gwich’in people as caribou people is intertwined with the Porcupine Caribou Herd’s calving areas in the Coastal Plain,” said Margorie Gemmill, first chief for the Venetie tribal government. “Any impacts to the Porcupine Caribou Herd from changes in migration patterns, lower fertility rates, and loss of habitat will have significant adverse social, cultural, spiritual, and subsistence impacts on our people. This process must be stopped.”

Fifteen state governments in the Lower 48, including the states of Washington, California and New York, filed a separate lawsuit in federal district court in Alaska on Wednesday challenging the federal government’s plans in the 19-million-acre refuge.

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or