Last Friday, Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation submitted an application to conduct winter seismic testing in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. The application names SAExploration, the Houston-based company embroiled in a seemingly endless string of scandals, as the operator who would conduct the testing. SAExploration was also named in the previous application, stalled and eventually withdrawn when it was determined that polar bears would not be adequately protected from destructive equipment.
As we’ve come to expect from this administration’s rushed and shoddy review process, the public was given only two weeks to comment on the application, with a November 6 deadline.
Seismic testing, like every stage of the oil exploration and drilling process, poses unacceptable risks to the coastal plain. There is no question about the long-term damage it would cause to wildlife, especially polar bears, vegetation, and water in this sacred and highly sensitive environment. And Alaskans should be particularly concerned that the operator named in this permit to conduct seismic has a track record of financial mismanagement, corruption, and disregard for public process.
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Points to include in your comments:
- Seismic testing dramatically impacts tundra vegetation, leaving scars that last for decades. According to a recent UAF study, “the cumulative impacts of 3D‐seismic traffic in tundra areas need to be better assessed, together with the effects of climate change and the industrial development that would likely follow” (Raynolds, et al, 2020).
- The review process for this permit, conducted during the US election and in the midst of a global health crisis, does not allow for sufficient public engagement. BLM should extend the comment period to allow for people, especially those whose food security would be most impacted by industrial activity in the coastal plain, and who are less likely to have adequate internet access to engage with this process, to weigh in.
- The application lacks basic information about the plan, such as a complete mapping of travel routes, water sources for the proposed mobile work camp, and airstrip proposals. BLM’s failure to provide the public with a complete picture of the impacts of the proposal is unacceptable.
- Seismic activities have major impacts on Arctic wildlife, especially polar bears, who would be disturbed and potentially killed during the vulnerable denning season. The equipment used to detect dens has proven inadequate, and BLM has failed to demonstrate an ability to protect these animals, as well as the caribou, migratory birds, and other wildlife who depend on the coastal plain.
Efficacy of aerial forward-looking infrared surveys for detecting polar bear maternal dens (Smith, et al)