Wildlife Refuge Oil and Gas Rule

This rule safeguards sensitive habitat, protects human health and reduces financial risks to the public from drilling activities on national wildlife refuges.

H.J. Res. 45 is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued the Wildlife Refuge Oil and Gas Rule to ensure responsible management of private, non-federal oil and gas development on national wildlife refuges. This commonsense measure updated inadequate 50-year-old regulations, improving protections for some of our nation’s most sensitive wildlife habitat, and enhancing public safety and enjoyment of refuge lands and waters. The rule also reduces taxpayer costs for oil-spill cleanup and reclamation of drill sites on these public lands.

Oil and gas drilling poses a significant threat to the National Wildlife Refuge System, the only network of federal lands and waters dedicated to wildlife conservation. Currently, over 5,000 non-federal wells exist on more than 100 refuges across the country, one-third of which are actively producing. Oil and gas drilling is permitted where private individuals or other entities retained the subsurface mineral rights when the refuge was established or the lands were added to the Refuge System.

The old regulations failed for decades to prevent an immeasurable amount of damage from drilling activities, leaks and spills, resulting in release of toxic materials, massive habitat destruction, and refuges littered with abandoned infrastructure. The lack of bonding requirements for oil and gas operators left taxpayers with the bill to clean up industry’s trash. To this day, refuges are burdened with unplugged wells and unreclaimed drill sites that could cost the public more than $20 million to restore.

The Wildlife Refuge Oil and Gas Rule continues to allow responsible oil and gas development on refuges, while minimizing impacts to wildlife, water quality, public safety, recreation and other public values. It provides clarity for oil and gas operators, guides closer adherence to industry best management practices and ensures proper equipment removal and cleanup post-drilling. This reasonable regulation is similar to those that have protected other public lands for decades. Refuges located in Alaska are exempt from application of the rule.


Rescinding this rule will prevent FWS from responsibly managing oil and gas activities on national wildlife refuges, jeopardizing these treasured public lands and the multitude of species that depend on them. The agency will be forced to revert to the previous, grossly inadequate regulations, while rescission of the new regulation could block any future desperately needed regulatory improvements to the refuge oil & gas program. Oil and gas drilling will continue to threaten thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and negligent operators will likely continue causing numerous leaks and spills − of oil, drilling mud, brine and other contaminants − that poison countless fish and wildlife. Derelict oilfield equipment will continue to present a hazard to refuge employees, the public and sensitive species, and taxpayers could be stuck with escalating costs to fix the damage.

The National Wildlife Refuge System includes 566 national wildlife refuges, with at least one in every state and U.S. territory and within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. Administered by FWS, this unique network of public lands and waters conserves an astounding array of iconic, imperiled and game species, while providing millions of Americans access to wildlife dependent outdoor recreation. Opportunities for wildlife watching, hunting, fishing, photography, environmental education and interpretation are a hallmark of the Refuge System. Refuges are also an economic engine for local communities and the national recreation economy, generating more than $2.4 billion in annual, sustainable local revenue and supporting more than 35,000 jobs. Voiding the Wildlife Refuge Oil and Gas Rule will subvert sound management of these vital public lands and waters.


The Congressional Review Act resolution to rescind the rule is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), acting at the behest of industry and other special interests—although he and other proponents also appear to misunderstand the rule. The new regulation complements state oil and gas rules to better protect refuge ecosystems, reverse decades of mismanagement, and provide consistent guidelines for oil and gas operators on refuges throughout the country. Efforts to void the rule threaten to perpetuate habitat degradation and wildlife loss, and undermine the broad public interest in properly managing extraction activities on lands and waters that were reserved for wildlife conservation.


Jenny Keatinge, Defenders of Wildlife, jkeatinge@defenders.org, (202) 772-0270

Desiree Sorenson-Groves, National Wildlife Refuge Association, dgroves@refugeassociation.org, (202) 417-3803 ext. 13


Factsheet: Refuge Oil and Gas Rule and the Congressional Review Act
National Wildlife Refuge Association: February 13, 2017

Factsheet: Non-Federal Oil & Gas Activities on National Wildlife System Lands
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: November 2016

Blog: Petrol and Protection on our National Wildlife Refuges
Defenders of Wildlife: February 3, 2016