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Story Publication logo November 7, 2019

'Threshold' Podcast — 'The Refuge,' Season 3, Episode 1: 'Sibling Rivalry'

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Should we drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Why? Why not? Who gets to decide...

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A polar bear near Kaktovik. Image by Nick Mott. United States, 2019.
A polar bear near Kaktovik. Image by Nick Mott. United States, 2019.

April 25, 2024: This is "The Refuge," Threshold’s Peabody Award-winning third season, originally released in late 2019. A lot has happened that could affect the future of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge since our show came out — so we're re-releasing the season in full, along with an update on where things stand today.

From 2019: The question of whether or not we should drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most contentious public lands debates in the United States. Even though most Americans would have a hard time finding it on a map, the topic seems to ignite intense feelings in just about everyone.

After 40 years of fighting, Congress voted in December 2017 to allow drilling in the refuge. As we release this, the Trump administration says it will start auctioning off development rights to oil companies as soon as this winter. But opponents to drilling are trying to stop that from happening, and at this point, no one really knows how things will play out. In this episode, we take you to the refuge, track down the origin story of the conflict, and follow that conflict through the decades.  

Learn More


The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their website has information on plant and animal life in and around the refuge, as well as details on resource management, conservation, community partnerships, and ways to get involved.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), is the law that created the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and preserved the potential for drilling in its coastal plain. The National Park Service offers a brief history of the law, or you can view the law itself here.


Map of the Refuge

ArcGIS map


After decades of legal struggle, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was once again submitted to congress for approval in 2017, this time as a small addition to the much larger Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. When that law passed, it opened ANWR, but it also triggered a whole host of laws and next steps.

The first was the process of assessing the impact of drilling in the coastal plain of ANWR, an area known as the “1002.” The final Environmental Impact Statement was announced by the Department of Interior on September 19, 2019.


Since the passage of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act and the release of the EIS, drilling in ANWR has been the subject of extensive litigation, led by coalitions of nonprofits, environmental lawyers, and Native Alaskan groups. There has also been a legislative response. On September 12, 2019, the House of Representatives passed a bill to close the refuge to drilling. You can read more about the process here.


The story of drilling in ANWR is unfolding as we speak. Many great articles have been written on the issue, from all sides, and we encourage you to dig in and see what is there. Some of our favorites have been done by The New York Times, who have done a lot of in-depth work on the refuge. This article is an excellent visual introduction.

We also like this look at what previous oil explorations in Alaska have left behind. Kiliii Yuyan’s photographic explorations of the arctic are also a beautiful visual resource.

For the most current coverage, we recommend following Alaska Public Media and Anchorage Daily News.


When Lisa Murkowski references “dark days” for Alaska, this budget crisis is part of the problem the state is facing. It’s for these reasons, among others, that 65% of Alaskans support drilling in ANWR, when nationally, 67% of people are against it.


If you’re interested in the life and work of Mardy and Olaus Murie, Two in the North is a great book on their life and adventures.


CNN tape of Senator Lisa Murkowski signing the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

1944 film, “Alaskan Highway

ARCO Film, Journey to Prudhoe

PBS NewsHour coverage of the 1970s American oil shortage

ABC coverage of conflict in Tehran

Smokey the Bear campaigning for green and healthy forests


yellow halftone illustration of an elephant


Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change

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