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article imageUSGS stalls polar bear study that may affect Alaska oil drilling

By Karen Graham     Oct 1, 2020 in Politics
A top official at the Interior Department has delayed the release of a study that shows how oil and gas drilling in Alaska could encroach upon the territory of polar bears — which are already struggling for survival because of climate change.
Director James Reilly, the head of the U.S. Geological Survey, is an appointee of President Donald Trump. He is a geologist and former NASA astronaut. From the time of his confirmation in April 2018, his role as head of the agency has been clouded in criticism.
Reilly has faced scrutiny over his treatment of science, particularly climate science. On becoming the director of USGS, he instructed his office to abandon the traditional practice of using climate models that stretch to the end of the century and instead to only use climate models projecting the impact of climate change through 2040.
His statements on the National Climate Assessment focused on the uncertainties in the science rather than directly stating concurrence with opinions expressed by some scientists. Speaking at an Earth Sciences meeting after his appointment as head of the agency, Reilly talked repeatedly about the uncertainties in climate science.
"We cannot build a fence to protect polar bears from rising temperatures " said Steven Ams...
"We cannot build a fence to protect polar bears from rising temperatures," said Steven Amstrup, chief scientist of Polar Bears International.
BJ Kirschhoffer, POLAR BEARS INTERNATIONAL/AFP/File
As was noted in the Pacific Standard Magazine in 2018, "industries opposed to emissions restrictions have over-emphasized the uncertainty in climate science as a strategy for delaying regulation."
And now, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post - the public knows that Reilly has basically hid for about three months a study done by his own agency's scientists that shows oil drilling on Alaska’s North Slope could impact a number of female polar bears that den and give birth on land near the southern Beaufort Sea.
It all comes down to another allegation that a Trump-appointed official has interfered with publicly funded research produced by career scientists. The peer-reviewed study is legitimate and is ready for publication, however, Reilly has withheld its publication for some pretty strange reasons.
Arctic Refuge contains the largest area of designated Wilderness within the National Wildlife Refuge...
Arctic Refuge contains the largest area of designated Wilderness within the National Wildlife Refuge System, "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man." [The Wilderness Act, 1964].
U.S. Department of the Interior
Scientists tracked female polar bear populations across northern Alaska, including in fragile Arctic habitats the Trump administration has slated for more oil and gas drilling. It was found that 34 percent of the western U.S. Arctic’s maternal dens lie on the refuge’s coastal plain. That is the same area the Interior Department approved for leasing in August.
The study notes that shrinking sea ice in the Arctic threatens the survival of polar bears while enhancing the opportunity for oil and gas development in the region: “The long-term persistence of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) is threatened by sea-ice loss due to climate change, which is concurrently providing an opportunity in the Arctic for increased anthropogenic activities including natural resource extraction.”
A caribou walks next to a section of the pipeline north of the Brooks Range.  The pipeline carries o...
A caribou walks next to a section of the pipeline north of the Brooks Range. The pipeline carries oil from the Arctic and Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope to Valdez, Alaska.
Stan Shebs
Reilly argues that the study should pinpoint the exact number and location of all bear dens, a feat experts said is impractical. Then, Reilly wants to know why a former USGS scientist is listed as a co-author in the study, especially now that he works for an activist group. Reilly calls this a "conflict of interest."
USGS spokesperson Hannah Hamilton told Forbes that requesting information on scientific studies is routinely done. “This is a longstanding practice to review scientific reports prior to publication to verify the strength of the science presented. Our scientists are working to address requests for additional information.”
The sad thing about this news is that drilling at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska (NPR-A) are among dozens of projects that were recently fast-tracked, benefiting from a June executive order from President Trump waiving environmental reviews to speed construction
More about USGS, Director James Reilly, publicly funded research, Polar bears, Alaskas North Slope
 
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