The Trump administration advanced its efforts to allow oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) on Thursday, with a draft environmental report, the Washington Post reports. The assessment warns of the impact on indigenous people and wildlife, and offers several options for moving forward, one of which includes protections for caribou.
The report was immediately denounced by environmentalists as rushed and generally insufficient. Polar bears, wolves, migratory birds, and the porcupine caribou all reside in ANWR, which has been closed to drilling for decades.
However, the report also said the move would boost local and state economies, as well as government revenue. Both of Alaska’s senators expressed support for the assessment.
The Bureau of Land Management said it still plans to sell oil and gas leases in 2019, including 1.6 million acres out of a total of 19.3 million that make up the refuge. One development option would set aside 708,600 acres to protect the summer habitat of the porcupine caribou herd, which is of vital cultural value to several local indigenous groups.
Other options also limit summer activities related to drilling in order to protect caribou, but note that these regulations can be waived, without specifying the requirements for such exceptions.
“If you’re going to have leasing at all, which I don’t think we should be doing, the idea of closing it during the most sensitive times is good. The question is will you actually stick to that or have they written in loopholes so that they can evade that if they really wanted to,” said Wilderness Society wildlife ecologist Tim Fullman.
The report is subject to a public comment period, lasting until February 11th, with public meetings held in several Alaskan cities as well as Washington DC.
A Fish and Wildlife Service internal memo from September, obtained by Mother Jones, warned that exploration and seismic testing could endanger polar bears.
The region is already especially fragile as a result of climate change. To compound the problem further, drilling in ANWR will also contribute to the carbon emissions driving climate change, contributing an additional 5 million metric tons of CO2 each year – around 0.1 percent of current greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, environmental groups said the possible benefits had been exaggerated.
According to a report from The Wilderness Society, estimates of oil in ANWR were “based on outdated information and overly optimistic assumptions about how much oil exists in the region, the price of such oil and the speed with which it could be developed and taken to market.”