Oil Companies Want to Begin Exploring the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve

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According to a permit application obtained by The Washington Post, several Alaska Native corporations plans to begin seismic testing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pure 1.5 million-acre coastal plain. The area is home to the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd, and the Gwich’in First Nation, a group of native people who rely on the reserve for food and regard the area as an important aspect of their culture.

The permit application requests that the exploration of the refuge begin this winter, with two 150-person teams arriving in areas of the land that not even the native Gwich’in people access out of respect for it. The plan of operations details that SAExploration Inc. wishes to “acquire better quality and higher resolution seismic data, using new recording methodology to image potential targets for future lease sales.” The area in question encompasses approximately 2,602 sq. miles, and the duration of the operation would cover the winter seasons of the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. With large crews traveling through the land, it results in “seismic trails” which can have a lasting impact on the fragile ecosystem of the tundra. Oil exploration from the 80’s left trails marking the land that can still be seen throughout the region.

The plans have been met with opposition by the Gwich’in Steering Committee, with executive director Bernadette Dementieff saying in a statement to Earther “Why can’t they just wait to have more information? The oil isn’t going anywhere. There nothing wrong with waiting. It makes no sense to rush.”

While the Bureau of Land Management opened a public comment period in April to help prepare the Environmental Impact Statement for potential drilling, it had given no indication it would allow companies apply for permits to begin seismic testing. The Gwich’in and Alaskan environmental groups are caught off guard by the sheer scope of the project that these companies hope to launch. Alaska Wilderness League Executive Director Adam Kolton said in a press release “Instead of a small footprint and a careful process, they want to deploy a small army of industrial vehicles and equipment with a mandate to crisscross every square inch of the Refuge’s biological heart.”

In the operations plans, there is a  section covering environmental management. It states: “Environmental management is not just the job of a few specialists – it is a crucial and integral part of our day-to-day business and an environmental culture for our seismic projects.” It states that the seismic testing will take precautions to preserve the tundra ecosystem, using smaller vehicles, sleds, and biodegradable lubricants. However, these “smaller trucks” will weigh approximately 90,000 pounds, and teams will be utilizing explosives to blast out airstrips.

Continuing the fight to keep oil interests out of the region, Dementieff says, “ We’ll go to every courtroom. We’ll go to every community meeting. We’re not giving up. We’re not going to allow them to destroy the calving grounds.”

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