In the last several weeks, the Trump administration has began not only to review the process for drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), but has also started the process for an offshore drilling lease sale.
In a notice published Friday in the Federal Register, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced to the public that as part of their ongoing preparation for an Environmental Impact Statement, they are opening a 60-day public scoping period. This official notice of intent states:
The BLM is undertaking a Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing EIS to implement the leasing program pursuant to the Tax Act (Public Law 115-97, Dec. 22, 2017). The Leasing EIS will serve to inform BLM’s implementation of the Tax Act, including the requirement to hold not fewer than two lease sales area-wide. It may also inform post-lease activities, including seismic and drilling exploration, development, and transportation of oil and gas in and from the Coastal Plain. Specifically, the Leasing EIS will consider and analyze the potential environmental impacts of various leasing alternatives, including the areas to offer for sale, and the terms and conditions (i.e., lease stipulations and best management practices) to be applied to leases and associated oil and gas activities to properly balance oil and gas development with existing uses and conservation of surface resources, and to limit the footprint of production and support facilities on Federal lands to no more than 2,000 surface acres.
The area of land the sale targets consists of an area on the Prudhoe Bay in Northern Alaska, which has an estimated 12 billion barrels of recoverable crude, and is home to hundreds of wildlife species, including polar bears, caribou, and migratory birds.
Previously nearly all of the Beaufort Sea was off limits to drilling under the Obama Administration. It wasn’t until last year, despite strong opposition by Democrats and environmental conservation groups, that drilling in ANWR was made possible by Republicans, who quietly included a “backdoor drilling provision” in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Donald Trump admitted earlier this year that it wasn’t until a “friend” of his from the oil and gas industry called him to relay how difficult it had been under previous administrations to get drilling in ANWR approved that he even paid it any attention. Trump stated, “A friend of mine called up who is in that world and in that business. He said, ‘Is it true that you’re thinking about ANWR?’ I said ‘Yeah, I think we’re going to get it but you know …’ He said, ‘Are you kidding? That’s the biggest thing by itself. Ronald Reagan and every president has wanted to get ANWR approved.’ And after that I said ‘Oh, make sure that is in the bill. It was amazing how that had an impact.”
Republicans, such as Assistant Interior Secretary Joe Balash, claim that the plan to drill in ANWR is “an important facet for meeting our nation’s energy demands and achieving energy dominance.”
Environmental groups strongly disagree. “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,” says Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife.
This initiated public scoping process allows for the BLM to identify relevant issues to address in the environmental impact statement. The bureau has also invited the public to provide comments on the issues and will hold public meetings in Anchorage, Arctic Village, Fairbanks, Kaktovik and Utqiaġvik, times and dates to be determined.
To participate in the public comment period, please direct your comments here: