Freeze on Arctic Refuge drilling is welcome news

Freeze on Arctic Refuge drilling is welcome news

 

Plans for seismic testing this winter in the coastal plain region of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge opposed by Friends of Animals and a coalition of groups have been put on hold.

The Department of Interior announced there would be no seismic exploration, Alaska Public Media reported.

The Refuge consists of more than 19 million acres of wild lands and was first set aside for protection in 1960. But last year, in a move to obtain support for the Republican tax measure from Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell struck a deal to include a provision that opens its 1.6 million- acre coastal plain region that is home to polar bears, caribou, grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, muskoxen and more than 130 species of migratory birds to oil and gas exploration.

While the Trump administration was swiftly moving to open the area and sell leases, concerns raised by wildlife and environmental groups about the impacts of testing on denning polar bears and the plain’s pristine tundra have helped stall drilling efforts.

Heavy machinery is only allowed to cross the tundra during winter when the ground freezes enough to allow the movement of trucks and equipment.

While a seismic survey this winter has been halted, the Bureau of Land Management can still sell oil and gas leases, but the companies will not have any fresh data. BLM is also allowing a less rigorous environmental assessment on the impact of drilling in the region.

However, a growing number of financial institutions have joined the fight against drilling, announcing they would not finance gas and oil exploration in the region.

The Arctic Cultural Coastal Plain Protection Act –HR 5911, proposed by Rep. Jared Huffman of California, which FoA is supporting, would restore protections that had been in place for more than a century to safeguard the Refuge’s biological diversity.

“We must muster the energy to block this assault on one of the most pristine refuges in the U.S. any way possible,” said FoA President Priscilla Feral. “The Arctic Refuge is pure wilderness.”