“Protecting the coastal plain is protecting our identity, our human rights, and our culture. We need to protect the coastal plain because it gives us life. It makes us who we are. Those who attempt to exploit this sacred place have taken aim at our communities and human rights.”

-Bernadette Demientieff,  Gwich’in Steering Committee Statement on the potential opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, April 19, 2018

 

The ethical, spiritual, recreation, and educational values of such an area are those one cannot put a price tag on any more than one can on a sunset, a piece of poetry, a symphony, or a friendship.

-Ginny Hill Wood on the proposed Arctic National Wildlife Range, 1958-59

On December 20, the Bureau of Land Management announced the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Refuge, which will be officially published on December 28. This marks the beginning of a public comment period which will end on February 11. Comments can be submitted online here (PLEASE NOTE: During the partial government shutdown, we’ve heard reports of irregularities with this page), or by mail to

Attn: Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program EIS
222 West 7th Avenue, Stop #13
Anchorage, Alaska 99513

December 22, 2017 marked the one year anniversary of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Public Law 115-97). Sen. Lisa Murkowski snuck a rider into this GOP tax bill to open the coastal plain to oil and gas leasing, and changed the purpose of the refuge to also “provide for an oil and gas program on the Coastal Plain.” Included are requirements to hold no fewer than 2 lease sales area-wide within 10 years, with the first within 4 years and the second within 7 years, and no less than 400,000 acres will be offered in each sale.

There’s a lot to pay attention to right now, but the bottom line is this: The Arctic Refuge should forever remain off limits to development and be permanently protected. Go here for detailed talking points to include in your comments, and keep reading for more background. 

Where are we now?

The BLM is undertaking a Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing EIS to implement the leasing program pursuant to the Tax Act.  Scoping for the environmental impact statement ended in June with over 680,000 people speaking up to voice their concerns over drilling in the Refuge (For detailed background on the scoping process, click here. For information on talking points and considerations, click here.). The draft EIS released today should reflect the concerns brought up during scoping. We have a short window in which to comment on the impacts of their plan.  The comment period currently extends from 12/20/2018 through 2/11/2019. Public meetings will be held in Anchorage, Arctic Village, Fairbanks, Kaktovik, Fort Yukon, Venetie, Utqiaġvik and Washington, D.C. at times and locations to be announced, and the official notice will be in the Federal Register on the 28th. Stay tuned for further information.

A separate and less rigorous process to review  a proposal to explore for oil and gas in the coastal plain has yet to be completed.   SAExploration has submitted a permitting application to begin 3D seismic exploration for oil reserves on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge during the winter of 2018-2019. Their plan is to have convoys of 30-ton thumper trucks  and mobile 150 person camps moving across the entirety of the coastal plain in 650 ft intervals. The potential cultural and ecological impacts are significant and your voice is needed to help halt this project.

Polar bears have already been flagged as being potentially impacted by this work and the US Fish and Wildlife Service is consulting with BLM to write an Incidental Take Regulation. This process also warrants public comment. 

Refuge Background

The Gwich’in people, who have depended on the resources of the Arctic Refuge since time immemorial, are united in their opposition to oil and gas development in the coastal plain. Their way of life is inextricably tied to the caribou of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and its coastal plain, a sacred area they call “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” or “the sacred place where life begins”. Protecting the Porcupine caribou herd is a matter of human rights and food security.

Many beings’ ways of life are at stake here. Since it was first federally protected by President Eisenhower  in 1960, the Arctic Refuge has been one of our nation’s most iconic public lands. It is home to the over 200,000 animal Porcupine caribou herd; to musk oxen, wolves, polar bears, and nearly 200 species of migratory birds that stop in the Refuge to eat, molt, and nest en route to and from six continents and all 50 states. Its biological heart, the coastal plain, is no place for oil and gas. For almost 60 years, the American people and Congress have continually reinforced the fact that the Arctic Refuge is worthy of protection and is no place for drilling, as industry and the Alaska delegation have repeatedly attempted to open a pipeline into the region.

It is our moral obligation to protect this landscape for future generations to experience, enjoy, and rely upon. The impacts of drilling in the coastal plain would be irreversible; this untrammeled landscape containing  intact ecosystems, millennia of human tradition, and a legacy of international and inter-cultural support for continued protection will be irrevocably transformed in ways we cannot predict.

Lease Sale Draft EIS Impacts and Concerns

The two volume Draft EIS consists of over 750 pages. See this link for detailed talking points to include in your comments.

For additional background, see the following:

Feel free to contact Ryan Marsh, our Arctic program coordinator at ryan@northern.org with any questions or concerns, and as always, thank you for all you do on behalf of Northern Alaska’s lands, waters, and communities. 

 

Northern Alaska Environmental Center

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