By Brittany Greve
Four months ago, after decades of Democrats attempting to block the measure, the GOP finally passed a resolution through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, that allows for rigs to be brought into Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). According to The Hill, this is the first administrative step that the Trump administration has taken toward completely allowing oil and natural gas drilling in ANWR.
Late last week, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management released a notice that they are beginning the “scoping” process, in order to examine the environmental impact of leasing drilling rights to various companies. The ANWR is a 1.6 million-acre coastal plain that hosts a major population of caribou, polar bears, waterbird species and seals. Conservationists and Democrats have fought back against this measure, since it could be detrimental to these species. But according to federal estimates, there is as much as 11.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil in ANWR. “Regardless of how much oil there is, [the Trump administration] needs to ask if that is worth risking the removal of so many different species of animals,” said Hailey Lara (‘21).
The Bureau of Land Management will be taking public comments for sixty days and will then hold four meetings in Alaska, where they will inform the public on how they will conduct the environmental review. According to USA Today, the public hearings are to be held in Anchorage, Arctic Village, Fairbanks, Kaktovik, Utqiagvik and possibly other areas if there is strong community interest. This review was set to be published last Friday in the Federal Register.
Joe Balash, the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, said, “Developing our resources on the coastal plain is an important facet for meeting our nation’s energy demands and achieving energy dominance.” But, President Donald Trump has previously shown a more careless attitude toward the action, saying that he “really didn’t care” about opening a portion of the refuge to oil drilling but insisted it be included in recent tax legislation at the urging of others. Regardless of President Trump’s attitude, Republicans in Congress praised the Trump administration’s move as a step that is long overdue and one that will lead to responsible energy development. Trevor Hurst (‘19) said, “The sudden push to exploit ANWR lands comes across as odd given that the United States is already moving away from a world where oil prices are a matter of national security.”
According to Science, Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association in Anchorage, said, “This is just the first step in a very long process that the Department of Interior will have to go through to fulfill their obligations as directed in the Tax Act.” She was sure to highlight BLM’s commitment to meeting with interested groups across Alaska.
The Anchorage Daily News said that the first lease sale could be as soon as next year. But first a draft environmental review, a final review, lease sales and applications to drill would be needed before any drilling occured. According to Michael Collins, a writer at USA Today, the first lease sale will offer at least 400,000 acres for bid. Now that a part of ANWR is open to rigging, Congress ordered two lease sales in the refuge — the first within four years, the second within seven. Each lease sale is to include at least 400,000 acres. Surface development on the federal land would be limited to 2,000 acres. According to the New York Times, the Trump administration said the drilling plan would help pay for tax cuts approved by Congress and signed by Trump in December. GOP lawmakers project at least $1 billion in revenue from drilling leases over 10 years.
While lawmakers and Republican congressmen may be happy, environmental groups have told the Trump administration to brace for a legal battle. According to Science, House Natural Resources ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and eight Democratic colleagues sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke objecting to the “needless haste” toward leasing in ANWR. “This administration’s naked greed and corporate favoritism have become an ongoing self-parody,” Grijalva said in a statement. “This is the kind of rushed policy that gets made during a backroom deal, not a careful assessment of public opinion and scientific data.”