Disagreement over the effects of climate change have led to criticism from within the US Interior department over the Trump administration’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), according to E&E News, via Science.
In comments dated from March, the department’s own Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) criticized and corrected the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the drilling plan. Much of the criticism focused on how climate change could affect the drilling projects themselves, as well as nearby wildlife populations.
According to the comments, which were signed by Greg Siekaniec, director of the FWS for the Alaska region:
“The effects of a changing arctic environment should be further addressed within the EIS. There is a large body of literature that describes the potential landscape level changes on the North Slope, including changes in permafrost, hydrology, land cover and infrastructure stability. We recommend that studies like these be included in the analysis of potential impacts to various development scenarios.”
The FWS also said the impact report failed to accurately account for the impact of climate change on bird populations in the area, saying some areas have become drier while others have been flooded with glacier melt. They also rejected suggestions in the report that birds could benefit from longer summers, with longer mating seasons and more insects.
“Contrary to what is stated in the DEIS, avian habitat is changing rapidly, both on the coast and inland tundra areas,” the comments said. “Please ensure the EIS accurately assesses the potential impacts to birds and their habitat resulting from a changing climate based on the best available science.”
Rising sea levels, the loss of sea ice, and intensified storms could push animals like birds and polar bears inland, closer to where drilling projects are planned, according to the FWS. Flooding also increases the risk of heavy metal contamination from drilling activities.
Experts said the comments most likely will not alter plans for ANWR drilling, but could help fuel lawsuits challenging the projects, or even congressional efforts to limit the drilling.
However, interior department spokesperson press secretary Molly Block said the comments would be considered for the final impact statement, along with thousands of other comments on the draft.
“BLM has an obligation to consider all of these comments—including those from its sister agency—and anticipates they will inform the Final EIS (FEIS) in multiple ways.”