If you were to ask your Republican congressmen or women what exactly was in the tax bill, they would tell you “tax cuts.” But what they won’t talk about are the other little items they slipped into the legislation.
A provision of the tax bill mandates 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.
Needless to say, while environmentalists are outraged over this, energy industry advocates are thrilled, reports Fortune.com. “ANWR by itself would be a big bill,” said Trump before the tax bill vote. And this time, Trump is right – The ANWR all by itself is a big deal and will become a chapter in Alaska’s history books.
For years, there have been debates between the oil industry, Alaskan Native groups, politicians, and environmentalists over the potential risks of opening the ANWR to oil and gas drilling on polar bears and caribou, on nearby native villages and climate change.
Kristen Miller, who heads the Alaska Wilderness League says “For 30 years, Congress has voted nearly 50 times on whether or not to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to the Porcupine caribou herd, musk oxen, wolves, imperiled polar bears, and nearly 200 species of migratory birds that migrate to six continents and all 50 states”
Many readers may remember that back in September this year, the Trump administration tried to pull a fast one on the public. The incident involved a secret memo from US Fish and Wildlife Service acting director James Kurth on August 11, instructing 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.
However, the ultimate decision to allow drilling in the ANWR lies with Congress and seismic studies would be the first thing to be done. So the GOP just slipped the repeal of the time constraints rules into their little tax package, getting it passed without fanfare.
Will they or won’t they drill?
The big question on everyone’s mind now is how soon, and how many oil companies are going to flock to the ANWR to begin drilling? Some lawmakers feel that revenues could offset any deficits created by the tax bill. However, Bud Coote, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center says they are going to be seriously disappointed.
“In the current economic environment, it’ll be a tough sell,” he said. “The coastal plain is in the northeastern corner of Alaska, far from the infrastructure and proven reserves of the North Slope.” Not only that but with the price of oil so low and not much exploration having been done, not much is known about the reserves available.
The Wilderness Society points out that 2-D seismic exploration conducted in the 1980s resulted in significant impacts to tundra vegetation that persisted for decades. As of 2011, some sections of the 1980s seismic trails were still visible. Seismic activity can also contribute to permafrost melt, which in turn leads to thermokarst erosion and water quality impacts.
“It’s really just speculation at this point,” said Coote, who retired recently from the Central Intelligence Agency, where he was the agency’s leading international energy analyst and an adviser to senior U.S. officials.