Alaskan protesters tell feds to Keep It in the Ground at Arctic oil auction

Alaskan protesters tell feds to Keep It in the Ground at Arctic oil auction

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — Protesters from Alaska Rising Tide today rallied outside a massive Bureau of Land Management oil and gas auction in Anchorage, calling on President Barack Obama to halt the sale and keep publicly owned fossil fuels in the ground to prevent climate disaster.

The “climate auction,” as protesters dubbed it, allows oil and gas companies to bid on more than 1.4 million acres of Arctic public land in the 24 million acre National Petroleum Reserve in northwest Alaska — one of America’s largest remaining contiguous tracts of public land. 

“Alaska is bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, and pollution from more fossil fuel leases will make a bad problem worse,” said Michael Patterson with Alaska Rising Tide. “We should be leading the transition to clean energy, not putting more climate pollution on the table. That’s why we’re calling on President Obama to keep our federal fossil fuels in the ground.”          

Fracking and drilling in this area will industrialize land, pollute water and cause vast greenhouse gas pollution. It threatens Arctic communities already impacted by climate change, traditional hunting and fishing areas, and globally important habitat like the Colville River Delta, which supports water birds from four continents.

“Fossil fuels are an outdated energy source that doesn’t meet the demands of the 21st century. Alaska’s dependence on the extraction of fossil fuels has led to our current troubling economic situation,” said Patterson. “The current economic system in Alaska is one that depends on the destruction of the environment and that jeopardizes Indigenous culture. As a member of Alaska Rising Tide I advocate for a bold effort to diversify Alaska’s economy by developing cleaner and safer energies. I believe the first step in establishing this alternative economy is to cease extraction of federal fossil fuels in Alaska. Keep it in the ground.”

Today’s protest is part of a rapidly growing “Keep It in the Ground” movement of local and national groups calling on President Obama to define his climate legacy by stopping new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans — a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution from escaping into the atmosphere.

A similar protest yesterday halted a BLM oil and gas auction in Utah. Last week over a hundred people protested an auction in Colorado, and dozens protested one two weeks ago in Wyoming. More “Keep It in the Ground” protests are planned for auctions in Reno, Nev., and Washington, D.C.

The auctions highlight a conflict between the Obama administration’s climate goals and its “all of the above” energy policy by leasing federal fossil fuels that should be considered “unburnable” in the context of global carbon budgets. Federal fossil fuels — those that the president controls — should be the first taken off the table to fight climate change.

More than 400 organizations and leaders working on the “Keep It in the Ground” campaign called on President Obama to end new federal fossil fuel leases following reports that doing so would keep up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution in the ground, and that the president has the legal authority to do so now, without Congress. Those emissions would be incompatible with any reasonable U.S. share of global carbon budgets to avoid catastrophic warming.

Senator Merkley (D-Ore.) and others recently introduced legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing ones. Days later President Obama cancelled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Statements from other individuals and groups:

“The same logic President Obama applied to Keystone XL should be applied to today’s fossil fuel auction: Some fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground,” said Jason Kowalski with “With UN climate talks just around the corner, selling unburnable carbon to the highest bidder sends the wrong signal to the international community.”

“Each new federal fossil fuel lease plunges us deeper into climate disaster,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we want to avoid the worst climate impacts we must stop bringing new fossil fuels online. Stopping new leases for drilling, fracking and mining on our public lands is the natural place to start.” 

“President Obama cannot claim climate leadership while continuing to lease fossil fuels,” said Marissa Knodel, climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “With more fossil fuels leased than can be burned to avoid climate catastrophe, President Obama must put a stop to all new lease sales of public fossil fuels.”

“We have to deal with the climate crisis that is happening. To slow glacial melt and warming, we have to transition to a clean energy economy,” said Ruth Breech with Rainforest Action Network. “This is going to take all sectors — especially corporate and government — to make transition a reality. The need to reconsider these leases, which reinforces the status quo, is paramount.”


The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land, and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public lands like national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges that make up about a third of the U.S. land area — and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard. These places and fossil fuels are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. An August report by EcoShift consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that has not been leased to industry contains up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Download a copy of “Keep It in the Ground Act of 2015.”

Download the September “Keep It in the Ground” letter to Obama here.

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground here (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels here (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet here.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits here (this report details the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands).


Michael Patterson, Alaska Rising Tide, (907) 231-2069
Jason Kowalski,, (202) 670-5345
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414
Marissa Knodel, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0729, [email protected]
Ruth Breech, Rainforest Action Network, (415) 238-1766

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