Arctic & Antarctica
Pools of water in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain, Alaska (Photo from AP Images)

BLM releases final ANWR environmental impact statement; opponents plan legal action

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Bureau of Land Management released a final environmental impact statement for the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, moving one step closer to oil and gas lease sales over the area as the 2017 tax bill sets out.

BLM says that the preferred development scenario involves leasing the entire 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain as “there would be the fewest acres with no surface occupancy (NSO) stipulations.”

The EIS says the impacts resulting from the sale would include effects from “seismic and drilling exploration, development, and transportation of oil and gas in and from the Coastal Plain” and outlines the effects on local subsistence users as “impacts on subsistence species and from direct disturbance of hunts, displacement of resources from traditional harvest areas, and hunter avoidance of industrialized areas.”

Alternative B, which BLM selected as the preferred development option in its EIS, would open most of the 1002 Area
with protections around riverine areas (Image from 2018 Draft EIS)

The EIS says the most directly affected communities are Kaktovik, who are the primary resource users in the area, while communities such as Nuiqsut, Arctic Village and Venetie could see effects on Porcupine and Central Arctic caribou herds, which breed in the area.

The release brought applause from Alaska’s congressional delegation, which has long pushed for development of the Coastal Plain, also known as the 1002 Area.

“This is a major step forward in our decades-long efforts to allow for responsible resource development in Alaska’s 1002 Area, and I thank Secretary Bernhardt and his team for their thousands of hours of hard work,” said Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski in a statement. “I’m hopeful we can now move to a lease sale in the very near future, just as Congress intended, so that we can continue to strengthen our economy, our energy security, and our long-term prosperity.”

But the Gwich’in Steering Committee, which represents Gwich’in in Alaska and Canada opposed to the drilling, voiced strong opposition to the sale.

In a release, the group says that oil and gas drilling would disrupt the calving and nursing grounds for caribou, which Gwich’in in Alaska and Canada use for subsistence when they migrate inland.

The EIS, the release says, is a result of a “hasty, flawed, inadequate, and secretive review process” which began after the Draft EIS comment period closed in March of this year after being extended by 30 days. The EIS says that it received over a million comments but that only about 4,000 of them were "substantive," meaning that repeat comments from letter campaigns.

“There is nothing final about this EIS process except that it demonstrates that this administration and the Alaska delegation will disregard our way of life, our food, and our relationship with the land, the caribou, and future generations to pander to industry greed,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee in the release.

A lease sale could come as early as October, after a 30-day review period expires. The 2017 tax bill requires that there be at least two lease sales held by the end of December, 2024 offering at least 400,000 acres each.

A bill was passed in the US House that would stop all lease sales in ANWR, but it is unlikely that it will be heard in the Senate.

Still, Dementieff of the Gwich'in Steering Committee said that that bill, which passed the house today by a 225-193 vote, was important to show the will of the American people and indigenous people in particular, but she acknowledged that that hearing in the senate was unlikely.

She said the primary strategy will be legal action. Speaking from Washington D.C., where she was observing the passage of the bill to prevent drilling in ANWR, Dementieff said that she was looking over options with attorneys.

"We're definitely taking them to court," she said. "We’re gonna push the science on it. They’re literally pushing this through, it’s really sloppy."

Another potential avenue for legal challenges was the lack of government-to-government consultation, including with Canadian Gwich'in, according to Dementieff. According to the EIS, the bureau they consulted with affected tribal entities, as well as the Canadian government and the International Porcupine Caribou Board, though individual tribal governments in Canada do not appear to have been consulted.

But Dementieff said that all options are on the table for now.

"We’re gonna look at every level of defense for the refuge," she said.

See KTUU article . . .