The Trump administration has taken its first major step toward allowing oil and gas companies to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for the first time.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a notice Thursday announcing that it is starting the “scoping” process for an environmental review to examine the impact of leasing drilling rights to companies in ANWR’s 1.6 million-acre coastal plain.
The 19.6-million acre refuge in northeastern Alaska is one of the most pristine areas in the U.S. and home to the vulnerable polar bears, caribou, and endangered Short-tailed albatross.
A notice being published Friday in the Federal Register initiates a 60-day review period. During the period, the BLM will take public comments and hold four meetings in Alaska to inform the public how it will conduct the environmental review.
Scouting the technical rapid section of the Hula Hula River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The last section of river that flows through the mountains tumbling us through rapids before spitting us out into the braided channels on the North Slope. What a beautiful river and amazing opportunity to be out there paddling it, for the glaciers that feed it are melting fast…
Congress authorized drilling in the refuge in a tax-cut law approved in December and signed by President Trump.
“It is shameful that on the anniversary of our nation’s worst environmental disaster, the Trump administration announces plans to open pristine wild lands to more destructive oil drilling,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement, referring to Friday’s eighth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion.
That explosion triggered a massive 87-day oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, releasing an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil.
“The Trump administration’s reckless dash to expedite drilling and destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will only hasten a trip to the courthouse. We will not stand by and watch them desecrate this fragile landscape,” she said.
“The Trump administration’s headlong rush to drill America’s last great wilderness is reckless and wrong,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
“The administration’s short cuts toward a sell-out of the Arctic Refuge are legally risky and are sure to add another stain to [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke’s shameful anti-conservation record.”