BLM pushes forward to promote seismic exploration in Arctic coastal plain

Battle over oil, natural gas development pits Interior against North Slope Alaska Natives

Trump administration officials with the federal Bureau of Land Management are pushing full speed ahead to promote 3D seismic survey activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the winter of 2020-2021.

The BLM said on Tuesday, Dec.15, that its environmental assessment and draft finding of no new significant impact would be available for review through Dec. 29 at eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2003258/510, but efforts to reach the BLM with further questions through phone contact lines were unsuccessful.

The Gwich’in Steering Committee and 12 allied groups meanwhile filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on the same day, requesting a preliminary injunction to stop the BLM from issuing any leases sold in the Jan. 6 sale for exploration of the ANWR coastal plain, and from authorizing seismic exploration activities.

The environmental assessment was on the application from Kaktovik Inupiat Corp., which seeks to conduct seismic exploration within the coastal plain of ANWR, a plan which the Gwich’in Steering Committee strongly opposes. The coastal plain is the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou herd, which is of critical cultural and food importance to the Gwitch’in.

“The outgoing administration’s attempt to sell off sacred lands in the last throes of its term is an act of violence toward the Gwich’in people, our way of life, and our survival,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.

Demientieff said the Gwich’in would continue to fight, as their ancestors did, to protect the lands that nourish the Porcupine caribou herd and their people.

According to BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett the BLM has received significant input from its federal, state and tribal partners in development of its environmental assessment.

“It’s important that we are responsive to our community’s needs while providing a responsible path forward for economic opportunities for our North Slope communities,” he said.

Seismic exploration is used to search for commercially viable subsurface deposits of crude oil and natural gas by recording, processing and interpreting artificial seismic energy generated by Vibroseis techniques.

Vibroseis is a truck mounted system that uses a large oscillating mass to put a range of frequencies into the earth. The BLM contends that seismic exploration is a minimally invasive way of discovering potential areas with hydrocarbon resources to better inform future leaseholders and potential oil and gas development.

Exploration and development of oil and gas resources in ANWR’s Coastal Plain is opposed not only by the Gwitch’in, but a number of conservation entities, including The Wilderness Society, which issued a statement in response to the BLM’s announcement regarding the proposed seismic surveys, saying this is yet another harmful step to turn one of the nation’s most sensitive ecosystems over to the oil industry before President Donald Trump leaves office.

“To allow industrial activity on the coastal plain goes against public opinion, tramples on the human rights of indigenous peoples in the region and is sure to cause irreparable harm to the lands of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Karlin Itchoak, Alaska state director of The Wilderness Society. “We strongly oppose proposals for seismic exploration, as well as the rushed oil and gas lease sale scheduled for Jan. 6.”

Trustees for Alaska, based in Anchorage, is providing legal representation for entities opposed to the BLM lease sale and exploration for the Gwich’in Steering Committee, Alaska Wilderness League, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society-Yukon Chapter, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment America, Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, National Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Wilderness Watch.

Every action leading up to the BLM’s Jan. 6 lease sale has demonstrated a dangerous disrespect for public interest and transparency, said Brook Brisson, senior staff attorney at Trustees.

“This administration has not paused once to listen, to be thorough, or to fix what’s broken in this appalling leasing plan, so we have asked the court to stop it from issuing leases,” she said.