ExxonMobil Says They Are Not Interested in Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


April 17, 2023

Washington, D.C. — Industry giant ExxonMobil has informed shareholders in a new proxy statement that the company has no plans for new oil and gas exploration or development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ExxonMobil’s announcement is another strong indication that major oil companies view drilling in the Arctic Refuge as a bad investment, and an indication that a 2024 Arctic Refuge lease sale—mandated by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—would be as big a failure as the first.

The company explicitly stated that “With regard to this proposal [put forth by shareholders] ExxonMobil does not hold any active leases and is not pursuing any active developments within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” Furthermore, the proxy statement also stated that “[ExxonMobil] current investment plans do not include exploration activity within the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) region, and we plan relatively limited investment to sustain our existing interests in the region.” This announcement comes just one week after Chubb – a major insurance company – became the first American insurance company to issue an explicit policy to not underwrite oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge.

Oil companies are increasingly rejecting the idea of drilling in the Arctic Refuge – the largest wildlife refuge in America, as they confront public opposition as well as major banks and global insurance companies staking out positions against financing or underwriting any development in the Porcupine Caribou Herd calving grounds. A majority of Americans support protecting the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge; 29 global banks now have a policy to decline underwriting oil and gas projects in the Refuge; and 18 international insurers have also made such commitments.

And, while ExxonMobil’s disinterest in drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic Refuge is welcome news, the company recommended shareholders vote against the proposal to protect their ability to work in “remote and challenging environments all over the world, and in some cases in ecologically sensitive and/or biologically rich areas.” This response also ignores risk from not respecting the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples whose sacred landscapes are under threat from oil and gas development – including in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, which is sacred to the Gwich’in as the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd.

Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee stated that “We urge all companies – and their investors – to reject development in ecologically sensitive and biologically rich areas that would threaten lands, water, wildlife and a way of life for the Indigenous Peoples that have occupied these lands for thousands of years – including Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit (the sacred place where life begins),” said Demientieff. “Many of these are not only important to protect for our future generations but are sacred to the people who have cared for these lands since time immemorial. Companies or money cannot divide our people from our lands that are sacred. We are asking for ExxonMobil and all companies to respect our rights, including our right to free, prior, and informed consent.”

Additionally, members of the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign share their responses to ExxonMobil’s shareholder proxy statement:

“ExxonMobil’s position fits with the larger trend: Big Oil is not interested in gambling on long-term oil drilling investments in Alaska,” said Kristen Miller, Executive Director of Alaska Wilderness League. “BP already left the state, and last year both Chevron and Exxon spent $10 million to drop leases on private lands in the Arctic Refuge. This is good news for climate, as the scientific community continues to affirm the need to stop any future extraction of fossil fuels to meet global climate goals. Exxon’s response to this shareholder resolution demonstrates clearly that big corporations have read the handwriting on the wall. Arctic oil extraction isn’t worth the risks. We now look to ConocoPhillips, which has yet to make a final investment decision on the Willow project, and urge them to see that investing in Arctic oil is a bad business decision.”

“Chevron, Hilcorps and 88 Energy canceled their Arctic Refuge leases last year and now ExxonMobil has told their shareholders that they have no plan to drill in the refuge,” said Ellen Montgomery, Public Lands Campaign Director for Environment America. “Luckily for the caribou, polar bears and migratory birds that live there, the Coastal Plain Leasing Program is seeming more and more pointless. No oil companies want to drill in the refuge. We urge Congress and the Biden administration to act to permanently protect this special place.”

“This is a significant win for the Arctic and for the climate. Don’t just take our word for it, take Exxon’s: oil and gas drilling in the Arctic is bad business. President Biden must seize this opportunity to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the people who depend on it,” said Mike Scott, Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club.

“ExxonMobil is recognizing what others have been saying for years: High-risk drilling for Arctic oil on land that is sacred to Indigenous people is bad business,” said Karlin Itchoak, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. “The calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd is not only a beautiful, wild place that is worthy of protection. It is vital to the food security and cultural survival of local communities. Other industry leaders should follow ExxonMobil’s example, and Congress must act to protect for future generations.”

“ExxonMobil’s decision to not develop the Arctic Refuge for oil and gas addresses the concerns of the Gwich’in, who are united against any development of the coastal plain,” said Kate R. Finn, Executive Director of First Peoples Worldwide. “Without a comprehensive policy to operationalize free, prior and informed consent, companies remain exposed to economic and legal risks that come from a failure to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights.”


Media Contact: Genae Lako | genae.lako@gmail.com | (303) 918-6290