Arctic Refuge coastal plains to be opened to energy development

By Laura Bies

The entire coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be opened to energy development.
©Danielle Brigida/USFWS

The Bureau of Land Management released the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for oil and gas leasing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. Under the selected plan, the full 1.6 million-acre coastal plain area will be available for leasing. Other options considered, but not selected for action, in the EIS would have opened fewer acres to oil and gas development.

The coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is an ecologically sensitive area, home to a wide variety of wildlife, including polar bears (Ursus maritimus), numerous bird species and caribou (Rangifer tarandus). This area, along with Ivvavik National Park in Canada, serves as the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd, the largest herd in the refuge and one of the largest in North America.

The Wildlife Society recognizes energy development as an integral part of modern society, while also seeking to minimize its impacts on wildlife. The Society’s position statement on energy development calls for minimizing and mitigating the impacts of energy development thorough natural resource inventories before energy development and cooperation between energy developers and natural resource agencies.

The refuge’s coastal plain was first made available for leasing through the 2017 tax bill, via a provision championed by Alaskan members of Congress. That provisions calls for two lease sales within 10 years of at least 400,000 acres each, with the first taking place within four years of the bill’s passage.

Allowing drilling along the Arctic Refuge’s coast has long been controversial. Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act (H.R. 1146), introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., which repeals the provision from the 2017 tax law and prohibits energy development along the coastal plain. The bill is unlikely to advance in the Senate, however.

The Final EIS was published on Sept. 12 and a record of decision will be published after 30 days, at which point a lease sale can take place. According to E&E News, Interior officials have indicated that they plan to hold a lease sale before the end of the year.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on Energy Development and Wildlife.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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