The Trump administration says it is looking to make a quick sale of Alaska oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Meanwhile, opponents warn against rushing the process to permit drilling in the sensitive area. US Fish and Wildlife Service photo.
Department of Interior official said they will “move very, very quickly” on Alaska oil leases
The Trump administration says it is prepared to move quickly to sell Alaska oil leases in the environmentally sensitive area known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or the ANWR.
According to Reuters, David Bernhardt, deputy secretary of the Department of Interior, said during a speech in Anchorage last week said his department will “move very, very quickly on that project”.
Bernhardt says he hopes to see an imminent start to the leasing process and plans to wrap up environmental studies within a year. This is much more quickly than similar documents have been completed in the past.
According to Reuters, Bernhardt called the study process unproductive and “just nuts”.
“These documents that are written today, when they’re 8,000, 10,000, 13,000, 20,000 pages with appendices and everything, I can tell you no one on the planet reads,” he said.
Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan told attendees at CERAWeek in Houston last week that “we’re hoping to have a lease sale as early as 2019 on that.” Sullivan is a staunch supporter of drilling.
Erik Grafe, an Anchorage attorney disagrees with rushing the leasing process. He argues that the procedure involved in conducting environmental studies in Alaska, which involves consultation with Native tribes and public meetings in affected communities which are often remote, can be time consuming.
“None of that can be rushed and done adequately,” Grafe, of the environmental organization Earthjustice, told Reuters. “Doing this in a year is an extraordinarily fast timeline for a complicated process – a rightfully complicated process.”
Other critics of the sped-up process for this environmental review say such a move risks the climate and habitat of wildlife and does not offer a chance for local communities to have adequate input into the decision.
“It’s really insulting,”Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, told Reuters. “You can’t open up a place with such little time. What about regulations? What about laws?”
The Gwich’in, an Athabaskan-speaking First Nations people of Canada and an Alaska Native people, oppose ANWR oil development according to Demientieff. She says it threatens the caribou herd which is a critical part of their diet and culture.
“We’re going to fight them every step of the way,” she said.
Erik Grafe represented opponents to the $2 billion Shell 2008 Chukchi Sea offshore lease sale. According to Reuters, the pre-lease sale environmental analysis took two years to complete and was deemed to be too rushed by federal courts.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management then had to produce two separate revisions which forced delays in exploration.
Ultimately, Shell abandoned the project after it was unable to find commercial quantities of oil.
Grafe told Reuters history could be repeated with the ANWR.
“If the Trump administration takes shortcuts, we won’t hesitate to go to court,” he said.