Caribou can be seen in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo: Bob Clarke

Trump administration moves to open Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling

The Department of the Interior is trying to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to energy development, according to The Washington Post and The New York Times.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been instructed to update a rule in order to allow testing in the refuge, commonly known as ANWR, according to a memo published by both news outlets. If the proposal becomes final, energy companies will be able to be able to explore for oil and gas although the final authority on whether development occurs lies with Congress.

Alaska Native corporations stand to benefit from development. The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation owns subsurface rights and the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation owns surface rights to land within ANWR where development could occur. Native residents anticipate jobs, revenues and economic growth if Congress takes action.

But while Republican supporters of drilling have repeatedly cited benefits for the Native community, few have tried to authorize development solely on their lands, which are held in fee status rather than in trust. Instead they have focused on drilling in a larger portion of ANWR's North Slope, also known as the 1002 Area.

A map of Alaska North's Slope shows the "1002 Area" of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where oil development could occur. Native owned lands are shaded orange. Image: U.S. Geological Survey

When their legislative vehicles fail, Republicans typically blame environmentalists and Democrats but some also have lashed out at the Gwich'in Steering Committee. The Gwich'in people oppose development out of fear it will destroy the caribou herds in ANWR that they depend on for subsistence. Some Gwich'in villages are located within the refuge while others are across the boundaries.

The Trump administration memo does not give a timeline for action on the proposed rule. It does not appear to have been included in Interior's semi-annual regulatory agenda.

The push to open ANWR development comes as little surprise. In May, President Donald Trump proposed a budget that anticipated revenues from future oil and gas drilling.

"We're working with the tribes and the Native Alaskans that also depend largely on energy for their funding," Secretary Ryan Zinke said during a conference call with reporters at the time.

Read More on the Story:
Trump administration working toward renewed drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (The Washington Post September 15, 2017)
Trump Administration Moves to Open Arctic Refuge to Drilling Studies (The New York Times September 16, 2017)

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Secretary Zinke plans to work with tribes on drilling push in Alaska (May 25, 2017)

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