CREDIT U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE/AP
Caribou heard on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Trump Administration published a “Request for Nominations: Coastal Plain Alaska Oil and Gas Lease Sale” on Tuesday, November 17, 2020. This request will allow oil and gas companies to gain drilling rights in Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge. In a race against clock, the Trump Administration is pushing to lock in these rights before President-elect Biden’s inauguration on January 20th.
“This call for nominations brings us one step closer to holding a historic first Coastal Plain lease sale, satisfying the directive of Congress in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and advancing this administration’s policy of energy independence,” said Chad Padgett, the Alaska’s director for the Bureau of Land Management.
This subject has been an important topic of debate for many years. In 2017, Congress approved this drilling, which will allow companies to lease areas on the 1.6 million-acre coastal plain, but according to a poll done by Yale and George Mason university “33 percent of registered voters supported drilling for oil [in Alaska], while 67 percent opposed it.”
According to the Washington Post, the plan could include construction of airstrip, 175 miles of roads, support for pipelines, and a landing and storage site for barges, among many other things.
Additionally, “the lease sales would result in the release of more than 4.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide over the projected life of the field. That total, which includes the impact of oil and gas once it is burned, is equal to roughly three-quarters of U.S. annual emissions.”
CREDIT WASHINGTON POST Map of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
This is only one of the many environmental policies Trump has targeted. The administration also plans to allow drilling on the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, decrease restrictions on companies that kill migratory birds, and narrow the definition of critical habitats for endangered species.
Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge protects over 270 species, including the endangered Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear.
Earlier this year, James Reilly—Director of the United States Geological Survey—refused to release a study on how oil and gas drilling in Alaska may affect the already shrinking population of polar bears. Reilly, who was nominated by President Trump in 2018, cited “data collected by a former agency scientist now working for an advocacy group" and that it "does not count each polar bear den individually" as the reason for his refusal, but the report has already been peer reviewed and approved by the USGS.
The study found that “34 percent of the western U.S. Arctic’s maternal dens lie on the refuge’s coastal plain” of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. While its publication may not prevent the Administration's plan from moving forward, it indicates that drilling will likely impede upon mothers and cubs, the most vulnerable group of the polar bear population.
CREDIT BONNIE JO MOUNT/THE WASHINGTON POST
Polar Bears in Alaska, April 2019
“The report underscores that the southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population is facing a dual threat due to climate change and oil and gas drilling,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Suppressing reports by career scientists is a dangerous way to make policy and a waste of American taxpayer money.”
According to Erik Grafe—attorney for Earthjustice—if the Trump administration does succeed in leasing land to companies, “the Biden administration could seek to withdraw the leases if it concludes they were unlawfully issued or pose too great a threat to the environment.”
The Bureau of Land Management Alaska will publically release all names, addresses, and comments in response to the Call for Nominations.