Trump’s Brazen Attempt to Open the Arctic Up to Drilling

UPDATE, October 11, 2017: The House has approved a budget resolution that paves the way for drilling in the Arctic Refuge, and soon the Senate is expected to vote. This represents one of the greatest legislative threats facing the Arctic Refuge in years. Please take a moment to TAKE ACTION by contacting your Congressional representatives and urging them to protect the Arctic Refuge..

September 25, 2017: Summer in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge doesn’t last for long, but in that brief burst, millions of migratory birds flock to this vast wilderness expanse from every direction. Taking wing from Asia, South America, Africa, Antarctica and all 50 U.S. states, they congregate to nest in the refuge, a national treasure that’s one of the last wild, intact landscapes on the planet. Caribou, polar bears, Arctic foxes and wolverines roam the vast expanse, which spans 19.6 million acres in Northeast Alaska.

The 1.5-million acre coastal plain within the refuge is a biologically rich swath that borders the Beaufort Sea. It’s considered sacred by the indigenous Gwich’in people, whose way of life has for millennia depended on the caribou that calve there each summer.

  • An Alaskan tundra wolf leaps through the blowing snow in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    troutnut/Getty Images

    An Alaskan tundra wolf leaps through the blowing snow in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  • For years, Earthjustice has partnered with a diverse coalition of groups to protect the refuge from oil and gas development.

    Photo Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    For years, Earthjustice has partnered with a diverse coalition of groups to protect the refuge from oil and gas development.

  • These baby tree sparrows are some of the millions of birds that call the Arctic Refuge home.

    Photo Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    These baby tree sparrows are some of the millions of birds that call the Arctic Refuge home.

  • Legal policy has prohibited new oil exploration for the last 35 years in this pristine wilderness area.

    Photo Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    Legal policy has prohibited new oil exploration for the past 35 years in this pristine wilderness area.

  • Herds of caribou roam the vast expanse of the Arctic Refuge, which spans 19.6 million acres in northeast Alaska.

    Photo Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    Herds of caribou roam the vast expanse of the Arctic Refuge, which spans 19.6 million acres in northeast Alaska.

For decades, the Arctic Refuge and its coastal plain have been at the center of a political tug-of-war over fossil fuel extraction. Earthjustice has long partnered with a diverse coalition of groups on the side of protecting the refuge from oil and gas development. That battle reignited last week with news that the Trump administration is planning an attack on laws protecting the refuge, in order to accelerate oil drilling on the plain.

As the Washington Post revealed, the acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service instructed the agency’s Alaska regional director in an August memo to change a rule on “exploratory activity.” This precursor to oil drilling includes ear-piercing seismic blasting and underground shock waves to identify where oil deposits may lie.

The regional director was told to erase the part of the rule spelling out that these harmful exploratory tests were only allowed from Oct. 1, 1984 until May 31, 1986. This one shady little edit flies in the face of 35 years of established legal policy barring new oil exploration in the pristine wilderness area, throwing the biological heart of the refuge into immediate peril.

“We cannot and should not play politics with our national heritage, just to line the pockets of the oil and gas industry.”

Trump’s political appointees appear to be orchestrating this assault on the Arctic Refuge. Former commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, Joe Balash, who was nominated to a high-ranking Interior post, has submitted multiple proposals to conduct harmful seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain. And David Bernhardt, who Trump appointed to the second-highest position at Interior, represented the state of Alaska in a lawsuit in 2014 against the Interior Department to allow for seismic testing in the coastal plain, but lost. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that is suddenly pressuring for this rule change, answers to Interior.

Under federal law, only Congress can allow drilling in the refuge, and a 1980 law protects the coastal plain from oil and gas leasing and development. Yet other efforts that could jeopardize the refuge are moving forward simultaneously in Congress.

The House budget resolution for FY 2018 includes provisions that will be used to advance drilling in the refuge, signaling an attempt by congressional allies of the oil industry to insert a highly controversial policy issue into must-pass budget legislation. Meanwhile, the refuge isn’t the only Arctic landscape in the oil and gas industry’s sights. Earthjustice is currently opposing Arctic drilling proposals on multiple fronts, including offshore territories and public lands in the western Arctic.

  • Oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge threatens the habitats of a wide range of wildlife, including polar bears, Arctic foxes and wolverines.

    sarkophoto/Getty Images

    Oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge threatens the habitats of a wide range of wildlife, including polar bears, Arctic foxes and wolverines.

  • Secretary Zinke swears in David Bernhardt as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

    Photo Courtesy of U.S. Department of the Interior

    Secretary Zinke swears in David Bernhardt as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

  • Trump’s political appointees have submitted multiple proposals to conduct harmful seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain of the refuge.

    Photo Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

    Trump’s political appointees have submitted multiple proposals to conduct harmful seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain of the refuge.

  • This beautiful, expansive Arctic landscape is too precious not to protect from the oil industry’s destructive plans to drill.

    Eric Rorer/istock

    This beautiful, expansive Arctic landscape is too precious not to protect from the oil industry’s destructive plans to drill.

Even as cries of “drill, baby, drill” seem to be echoing off the walls of smoky backrooms from Alaska to D.C., one might be surprised to learn that there isn’t actually any shortage of oil. Supplies have reached historic highs, and gas prices have dipped – which means the industry has little to gain financially by opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“The Arctic Refuge is just too special to drill for oil and gas that we don’t need and should be kept in the ground,” says Earthjustice Associate Legislative Counsel Marissa Knodel. “For 30 years, Congress has respected the will of the vast majority of American people, who want to protect the Arctic Refuge. Drilling there should be excluded from any budget proposal. We cannot and should not play politics with our national heritage, just to line the pockets of the oil and gas industry.”

Source: https://earthjustice.org/blog/2017-september/arctic-refuge-at-risk-for-drilling