Mining and Drilling

Mining for coal, precious metals, gemstones, and minerals has been going on in the Arctic for over 100 years. Intensive exploration and drilling for oil and gas along the North Slope of Alaska began in the 1960s.

Discovery so far has been confined to the shore or shallow waters nearby. And at present, there is no offshore drilling of oil and gas wells north of the Arctic Circle. Norway, however, is considering an arctic exploration program.

Environmental groups are concerned about the possible effects of oil- and gas-related activities on polar bears and their prey. Offshore petroleum reserves of commercial size will mean increased air, sea, and pipeline traffic—and the risk of devastating oil spills.

Extraction activities on the North Slope of Alaska are carefully monitored and restrictive permit conditions are enforced. So far, there haven't been any bear mortalities nor measurable impact.

Oil and gas exploration in the coastal zone of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska (ANWAR) is under discussion. Environmental groups strongly oppose the idea. North Slope native associations hoping for royalty income support it.

Protection for denning sites in the coastal zone would be critical.