The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans Thursday to begin an environmental review of the impact of oil drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, according to the Hill. The move is the first step towards drilling in the refuge, the focus of a decades-long political battle that concluded four months ago when Republicans attached the measure to their Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
According to the announcement, the BLM will now hold four meetings to explain the review process to the public, and will accept public comments for a 60-day period. The notice will be published today in the Federal Register.
The tax bill stipulates that the BLM hold at least two sales for drilling rights in ANWR over the next decade.
According to Department of the Interior’s assistant secretary for land and mineral management, Joseph Balash, the first sale could happen as soon as next year. But a draft review, a final review, a sale of leases, and the application process would all need to take place first, providing plenty of opportunity for opponents of drilling to file lawsuits. Already, environmental advocates have said the Trump administration is rushing a process that they know will be controversial for its environmental impact.
The 1.6 million-acre coastal plain is home to large populations of wildlife, such as caribou, polar bears, birds, and seals, all of which could be affected by drilling and the potential for an oil spill.
Environmentalists also point out that drilling in the arctic holds added risks in the event of a spill, due to the climate. To stop spouting oil in the event of a spill like Deepwater Horizon, a relief well has to be drilled. With a much briefer drilling season thanks to the ice, a spill might continue with no way to stop it for up to two years. Other methods of recovering spilled oil are also rendered ineffective on thick ice, and the remote location would make the process even more difficult.
Furthermore, environmental advocates point out that the 90-billion barrel estimate for oil in the ANWR would only provide for three years of global oil supply, which they say should be phased out in favor of renewable energy in any case in order to mitigate global climate change.
Today also marks the eighth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which began a record 87-day oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife president, said in a statement:
“It is shameful that on the anniversary of our nation’s worst environmental disaster, the Trump administration announces plans to open pristine wild lands to more destructive oil drilling. The Trump administration’s reckless dash to expedite drilling and destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will only hasten a trip to the courthouse. We will not stand by and watch them desecrate this fragile landscape.”