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Arctic Drilling – 2019, January Update

The Race to Drill Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

On December 20th the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain oil and gas leasing program. The document can be found here in its entirety. 

Initial analysis of the DEIS reveals a remarkably deficient document and a flawed administrative process that (among many failings) underestimates the impacts to the Arctic Refuge’s iconic wildlife – including polar bears, caribou, and birds, minimizes the adverse impacts to the freshwater resources on which the region’s ecological systems depend, and fails to accurately assess the potential impacts of Arctic oil and gas development on climate change. While the agency is accepting public comments on the DEIS until February 11, 2019, its commitment to public participation and open process is under scrutiny.

Media outlets – including Alaska Public Media – reported this week that the Trump Administration is moving ahead to authorized oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Refuge in spite of a partial government shutdown that has idled 800,000 Federal employees. The continued activity by BLM staff has attracted the attention of Congress. According to AK Public Media, Congressman Raul Grijaiva of Arizona has written to acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt questioning the continuation of work on the Arctic Refuge and the National Petroleum reserve during the shutdown. “Asking people to comment on two major development processes in the Arctic with huge potential environmental and human consequences without anyone in the agency able to answer questions defeats the purpose of the public participation process,” Grijalva wrote.  

The Department of Interior’s juggernaut to permit leasing and stymie public participation is unacceptable. Watch for an action alert that will provide more information on how to develop and submit your input on the Draft EIS to the BLM.

Thumper Trucks Stymied by Government Shutdown

At least for now

A phalanx of rubber-tracked “thumper trunks” is poised to roll across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A recent article in the Alaska Daily News reports that heavy-duty trucks operated by SAExploration are awaiting a green light from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management to unleash ground-vibrating seismic testing gear across the Refuge’s frozen coastal plain in search of oil-rich geologic formations. The data acquired would be used by oil companies interested in acquiring drilling leases in a sale anticipated as soon as this year.

The partial Government shutdown has stalled the ambitious plan. Federal regulations require opportunities for public input on the project’s Environmental Assessment (EA) and draft Incidental Take Permit for Polar Bears before the thumper trucks can roll.  To minimize disturbance, the work can only be accomplished while the land is frozen. But seismic testing, even on frozen tundra, brings significant risks to wildlife. Conservation groups and polar bear experts have raise concerns over the potential disturbance to snoozing mothers bears with cubs without complete knowledge of den locations and adequate protocols for avoiding disruption.

It is anticipated that the process will be aggressively pushed forward when (and if) the Government shutdown is resolved. Watch for additional updates, including information on how you can provide your input on the EA and Incidental Take Permit.

(Illustration by World Wildlife Fund,

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Stop Arctic Refuge Drilling

The Trump administration has launched the process to lease the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. In April, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initiated the first step in that process with an environmental review which is preceded by a public comment period which is open until June 19th

Click here to sign on to our petition demanding the suspension of this ill-conceived scheme or submit your individual comments regarding drilling in the Arctic Refuge to the BLM by clicking here. (the comment link is on the right hand side of the page under “Submit Scoping Comments” please submit comments on the Notice of Intent)

Read the Notice of Intent here.

Suggested Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Talking/Commenting Points from the Wilderness Society

  • The Arctic Refuge is an amazing wilderness area that provides essential resources for the Gwichi’in and other Alaska Natives, and recreation opportunities for the general public.
  • The Arctic Refuge is one of the country’s most treasured and beautiful landscapes which should not be destroyed by oil and gas development.
  • The coastal plain is extremely important and globally significant habitat for caribou, migratory bird breeding, wolves, and denning polar bears, as well as other Arctic and Alaskan species.
  • Oil and gas drilling would have devastating impacts on this fragile coastal ecosystem due to the massive and polluting infrastructure needed to explore, produce and transport the oil. This includes sprawling roads, pipelines, drill pads, worker facilities and other infrastructure.
  • Oil drilling infrastructure likely will sprawl over vast stretches of the narrow coastal plain, adversely impacting wildlife and subsistence. Caribou females with calves often avoid infrastructure, and the narrow coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge may limit their ability to shift away from infrastructure like they can do in wider areas near Prudhoe Bay.
  • Oil production will produce greenhouse gases and black carbon which will further harm the Arctic, an area currently warming at twice the rate of most other parts of the planet.
  • The new oil and gas development purpose of the Arctic Refuge conflicts with the other purposes of the refuge. Oil and gas development will degrade subsistence resources and access to those resources including wildlife, plants, water, and air quality, among others.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015, after an extensive analysis, recommended wilderness protection for the coastal plain to Congress.
  • The U.S. and Canada have a 1987 treaty to protect the Porcupine Caribou Herd and that treaty’s obligations must be honored. The BLM needs to coordinate with the Canadian government and indigenous nations on this treaty’s requirements.
  • The Environmental Impact Statement must not be rushed. Procedural and scientific integrity, not political expediency, should drive the timeline. The EIS must utilize best available scientific information and traditional and local knowledge, and obtain data to fill baseline data gaps.
  • Given the major impacts a lease sale(s) will have on wildlife, the Gwich’in people, and others with connections to the Arctic Refuge – in combination with the lack of public debate on the tax law – we request a 60 day extension to the comment period.