An Alaska Native group failed to meet a critical deadline as part of its proposal to conduct a seismic survey in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Interior Department announced. The failure effectively kills the investigation, which is said to have located the oil and gas reserves in part of the refuge pending drilling there.
A spokeswoman for the department, Melissa Schwarz, said the group, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, had not undertaken any reconnaissance flights to locate polar bear burrows in the proposed research area as a prelude to sending trucks and other research equipment across the coastal plains of North America this winter. the refuge rolled. .
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior, had required three flights to be performed by February 13 as part of the company's request for an authorization that would require extensive efforts to remove the to be avoided during the full seismic survey.
As a result of the missed deadline, Ms. Schwarz said the company was informed "that their request is no longer open to action and that the Service does not intend to issue or deny the authorization."
Separately, another Office of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, examined the company's application for a general license to conduct the investigation. The decision not to act on the polar bear's permission makes the issue of the broader permit moot, effectively quashing the proposal.
The demise of the seismic survey has no direct effect on the oil and gas leases in the shelter sold in January, the last-minute culmination of the Trump administration's efforts to open the area up to development. Those leases are currently under review by the White House of Biden, which doesn't want to drill there.
The decision on the seismic survey is a victory for environmental groups and other opponents of allowing oil and gas development in the refuge, one of the largest remaining expanses of untouched wilderness in the United States and an area believed to contain billions of barrels. covered. of oil.
"This was a good decision by the Department of the Interior," said Karlin Itchoak, Alaska State Director of The Wilderness Society. "The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge provides the densest onshore habitat for polar bears in the entire Arctic, and its importance will only increase as a result of the climate crisis."
An official at the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Scientists and opponents of drilling had also expressed concern that moving heavy trucks and other equipment on the tundra, even in winter, would permanently damage the landscape. Tracks from the only seismic survey conducted in the refuge are still visible more than three decades later.
After decades of protecting the entire 19.5 million acre refuge, the Trump administration began an effort in 2017 to open 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain for oil and gas development. In an auction held just weeks before President Trump left office, the Bureau of Land Management sold 10-year leases for rights to drill for oil and gas on 11 tracts totaling approximately 600,000 acres.
In its review of those leases, the Biden administration is looking at whether the Trump White House, in its rush to sell them, made cuts to keep the sale going and then finalize the leases.
Even if the leases aren't thrown out by the Biden government, the prospects for oil exploration in the hideout are questionable at best. Of the tracts for which leases were sold, two were purchased by companies with little or no drilling experience. The other nine tracts were purchased by the state of Alaska, which would have to sublet them to an oil company before any work could be done. For the time being, there seems to be little interest in extracting oil from the refuge.