The plan was put forth by the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation and released by the Bureau of Land Management. The plan calls for the start of seismic testing on millions of acres, spanning an 847.8 square mile area, on the east side of the refuge in an area where polar bears and other wildlife reside. The seismic testing will allow the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation to detect the presence of oil in the area.
Seismic testing works in a way that is similar to ultrasound technology. It generates acoustic waves deep underground that produce a picture that can pinpoint oil deposits, according to The Hill.
The Bureau of Land Management said it would allow for 14 days of public comment before deciding if it should issue a permit, according to The New York Times.
Environmental activists have argued that the short timeframe means it is impossible to conduct an adequate environmental review of the proposal. The plan involves using heavy trucks fanned out across the area to create a grid pattern. It also requires a crew of 180 workers who would need ample supplies and mobile living quarters, according to The New York Times.
The National Wildlife Federation argues that the rushed comment period in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic ensures that public opposition will not be heard adequately.
“This is a desperate attempt to jam through a plan that could kill denning polar bears, imperil other wildlife, threaten the Gwich’in people, and cause long-lasting damage to the Arctic,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, in a statement. “By rushing this plan through while ordinary Americans are focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and their own health and safety, it’s clear this administration wants to cut the public out of public lands in order to advance its dangerously myopic and misguided energy agenda.”
The company intending to conduct the seismic test said it will exercise caution should it encounter any wildlife during its exploration. Environmentalists countered that it’s not the interactions that worry them as much as the permanent alterations to the Arctic tundra that could upset the delicate balance of the ecosystem that polar bears and other animals depend on.
“Allowing huge thumper trucks and camps onto sacred lands where they leave deep and lasting wounds is a threat to my people, the animals, our food, and our way of life,” said Bernadette Demientieff, the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in a statement, as The Hill reported. “We have raised concerns repeatedly about this administration rushing the process and shortcutting our review.”
The Wilderness Society also sees the plan as a politically motivated move that will silence the public.
“The submission of this application and BLM’s choice to act on it so close to the election shows how desperate the administration is to turn over one of the nation’s most sensitive landscapes to the oil industry,” said Lois Epstein, director of the Arctic program for the Wilderness Society, in a statement, as The New York Times reported. “The federal government is recklessly rushing and irresponsibly denying the public adequate time to assess the application and submit comments.”
The New York Times also noted that the proposal calls for the work to be carried out by Houston-based SAExploration, which declared bankruptcy, and was accused of accounting fraud earlier this month by the Securities and Exchange Commission.