Trump opens protected Alaskan Arctic refuge to oil drillers
The Trump administration is finalizing plans to allow oil and gas drilling in a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that has been protected for decades.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will offer leases on essentially the entire 1.6m-acre coastal plain, which includes places where threatened polar bears have dens and porcupine caribou visit for calving. Drilling operations are expected to be problematic for Indigenous populations, many of which rely on subsistence hunting and fishing.
The Democrat-controlled House just hours earlier passed legislation to protect the area, but Republicans in the majority in the Senate are highly unlikely to approve the bill.
The Alaska Wilderness League’s executive director Adam Kolton said that “to no one’s surprise, the administration chose the most aggressive leasing alternative, not even pretending that this is about restraint or meaningful protection”.
“With an eye on developing the entirety of the fragile coastal plain, the administration has been riding roughshod over science, silencing dissent and shutting out entire Indigenous communities,” Kolton said.
The environmentally-sensitive area of Alaska’s Arctic was forbidden for drilling until a change by Congress in an unrelated 2017 tax bill, which Kolton called a “sham of a vote”.
BLM on Thursday issued its final environmental impact statement for the project and said it aims to start granting leases by the end of the year.
The bureau estimates oil extracted and burned from the area could put the equivalent of between 0.7 million and 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere each year. At the maximum, that would be the same as roughly a million more cars on the road annually.
In reviews of a draft impact statement, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said the BLM underestimated the climate impacts of the oil leases.
Parts of BLM’s final statement suggest – contrary to evidence – that the current rapid heating of the earth is cyclical rather than human-made.
“Much attention in recent decades has focused on the potential climate change effects of GHGs [greenhouse gasses], especially carbon dioxide (CO2), which has been increasing in concentration in the global atmosphere since the end of the last ice age,” the document said.
Global scientists, however, have concluded that human actions, including burning fossil fuels, are the primary driver of the 1C temperature increase observed since industrialization.
In other sections, the document notes that fossil fuels contribute to greenhouse gases that heat the planet.