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article imageOp-Ed: We must put a stop to oil drilling in the Alaska Arctic refuge

By Karen Graham     May 31, 2019 in Environment
Anchorage - The U.S. Interior Department is determined to sell oil leases for the first time this year in the ecologically sensitive but presumably petroleum-rich coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, according to the Trump administration.
Interior Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash, speaking at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference in Anchorage on Thursday said the Interior Department is working on a final draft of an environmental impact statement for an oil leasing plan in the refuge’s coastal plain.
“Once we have a final EIS, we will be in a position to issue a record of decision and notice of lease sale,” Balash said., according to Alaska Public Media. “And that lease sale will happen in 2019.”
The Bureau of Land Management issued a draft environmental impact statement last year and will follow up with a final report this summer, likely by August, Balash said. But several environmental groups think something is a bit fishy about how all this is being rushed.
Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain  looking south toward the Brooks Rang...
Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, looking south toward the Brooks Range mountains.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Personally, I think it's all a political ploy on Trump's part, and Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League must think so, too. “This is being rushed faster than any area we’ve ever seen in the American Arctic and almost any area in the United States. It’s about meeting a political clock,” he said.
Environmental and conservation groups have been battling fossil fuel interests for years over the Beaufort Sea coast of the wildlife refuge, home to caribou, polar bear and other Arctic wildlife east of Alaska’s North Slope oil fields.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska (ANWR) is a vast expanse covering 19.6 million acres. Located in Alaska's northeast corner, the ANWR covers 2,300 square miles (5,957 square kilometers), an area about the size of West Virginia and Connecticut combined.
The wealth of oil lying under Alaska's coastal plain, estimated at about 10.4 billion barrels of oil — compared with 25 billion at the older Prudhoe Bay oil field to the west.
Female polar bears den during the winter in which they will give birth to young. Other polar bears d...
Female polar bears den during the winter in which they will give birth to young. Other polar bears do not den, but are active year-round.
US Department of the Interior
The refuge has been off-limits to oil and gas exploration and drilling for years until the Trump administration pulled a fast one on the public, which is the way our so-called president does business. It all came about with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 bill which Trump signed.
The administration slipped a provision into the legislation that mandated that the federal government hold lease sales in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). This would open the area up to oil drilling and other energy development, something that has not been allowed for over 30 years.
And December 2017 was not the first time Trump tried to slip one over on the public. In September 2017, a secret memo from US Fish and Wildlife Service acting director James Kurth on August 11 was discovered. It instructed the agency’s Alaska regional director to remove the time constraints of the rule that allowed exploratory drilling between Oct. 1, 1984, and May 31, 1986.
Note: The area Trump wants to open to drilling is known as  Area 1002.  It is located at the very to...
Note: The area Trump wants to open to drilling is known as "Area 1002." It is located at the very top of the map.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Why the lease sale must be stopped
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, another branch of the Interior Department, actually criticized the draft environment review in April this year. The USFWS - in 59 pages of comments said the draft had failed to take into account oil spills, global warming, and the welfare of polar bears that inhabit the area.
They also identified dozens of other gaps in the draft and implied that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management wrote the draft study without properly consulting wildlife regulators. Canada's governmental authorities from the federal to the tribal level also replied negatively to the draft, saying the draft study had failed to properly evaluate threats to the Porcupine caribou herd that roams the Alaska-Canada border area.
The Porcupine caribou herd is probably the largest caribou herd left in North America and the ANWR’s coastal plain are used as the herd's birthing grounds. Polar bears have their dens in the ANWR and this is where they give birth to their young. And the ANWR is also home to nearly 200 species of migratory birds that migrate to six continents and all 50 states.
Polar bears are forecast to lose a third of their numbers by mid-century
Polar bears are forecast to lose a third of their numbers by mid-century
Paul Zinken, dpa/AFP/File
The climate crisis is a real emergency
It is difficult for me to wrap my mind around someone who would put our nation at risk, and purposely, simply because of their grandiose beliefs they are so great. I'm sorry, but listening to anything coming out of our president's mouth has become distasteful and increasingly worrisome.
The climate emergency is real, and as proof, thousands of families in our midwest are flooded out of their homes, farmers cannot plant crops because of the extreme weather and tornadoes, like we have never experienced before, have destroyed homes, businesses and caused countless deaths.
Yet, Trump has not even acknowledged the emergency going on in this country, and he certainly is not going to say global warming is a factor. But he wants his loyal followers to believe he is making America great again - by pushing for more oil and gas drilling, cutting aid to those who need it, adding tariffs that we are paying out of our noses for, yet insisting he is right in everything he has done to screw this nation up.
We do not need more oil drilling in the Arctic, the ANWR, the Gulf of Mexico or any place else. If we allow the drilling to continue, we might as well give up on trying to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis and just sit on our collective butts until it's over.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Interior department, Arctic national wildlife refuge, Oil drilling, environmental law, Climate crisis
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