- Knick Arm Services is the second oil company to cancel an oil and gas lease on land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, America’s largest wildlife refuge.
- The Biden administration intends to continue Trump-era policies by supporting oil drilling on Alaska’s northern slopes amid rising energy costs in Alaska.
- Land in the shelters can still be leased to oil and gas companies as early as 2024, the US Bureau of Land Management told Mongabay.
- Arctic drilling and subsequent infrastructure development will have a major impact on the tundra and disrupt wildlife such as caribou and polar bears.
The people of Gwich’in, northern Alaska, were disappointed that the Democratic-led US Congress did not include provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). But for decades, the Gwich’in Steering Committee has taken the protection of the Arctic coastal plain into its own hands and has voiced vehement opposition to oil drilling in the region.
“These exits clearly demonstrate that companies recognize what we have known all along: drilling in Arctic reserves results from development on sacred land without the consent of indigenous peoples. It is not worth the economic risk and liability,” said Gwitchin’s steering committee. in a press statement.
When the Gwitchin learned that ANWR’s coastal plains would be at risk from oil exploration in the second year of the Trump administration, they made efforts to persuade banks and insurance companies to agree and speak up for the rights of indigenous peoples. doubled. Oppose oil and gas exploitation in reserves. The Gwich’in people have protected ANWR’s coastal plains since the 1980s after Congress passed a law that excluded the coastal plains, an area important to the livelihoods of indigenous groups in northern Alaska, and protected only 80% of the reserve. I have fought to The lease auction has started in 2021.
According to the commission, 29 global banks have implemented policies refusing to underwrite oil and gas projects in the havens, and 14 international insurers have insured development projects in ANWR. He says he won’t.
On August 16, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) canceled Knik Arm Services’ (KAS) lease of 19,669 hectares (48,603 acres) on ANWR’s coastal plains. A few months after purchasing the lease. BLM told Mongabay that he instructed the Office of Natural Resources and Revenue (ONRR) to refund more than $2 million to KAS.
KAS is the second company to ask BLM to cancel oil and gas leases. In June, Regenerate Alaska, a subsidiary of Australia’s 88 Energy, also waived its lease and requested a refund from BLM.
“If these leases had been developed, they could have included seismic testing, infrastructure such as roads and well pads, all of which would damage the tundra and lead to wildlife such as caribou, polar bears and birds. It’s devastating,” Ellen Montgomery, director of the public lands campaign Environment America, told Mongabay. Montgomery, whose organization advocates for protecting the shelter with the commission, said the withdrawal of the two oil companies is evidence that the January 2021 lease sale fell through.
Days before Biden took office, the Trump administration held an auction for the right to drill at the shelter.
Two lease sales were expected to raise $1.8 billion, but 9 of the 22 lots were leased and the initial bid raised only $14.4 million. Most of it came from the national Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA). .
Alaskan officials have long supported oil drilling in the Arctic. In fact, it was Republican Senator Lisa Markowski of Alaska who sponsored a Senate bill allowing drilling at the 809-hectare (2,000-acre) shelter. President Trump later introduced a budget that included drilling at shelters to boost state budget revenues.
During the presidential campaign, Biden promised to ban new oil and gas leases to combat climate change. Upon his presidency, he temporarily suspended all oil and gas activity in the Arctic Reserve. But as the U.S. experiences energy shortages amid Russian sanctions and soaring energy prices plaguing citizens, the Biden administration has pledged to scale back Trump-era drilling projects. , which supports oil and gas projects in the region.
Arctic land still for sale
ANWR spans 7.8 million hectares (19.3 million acres), with land roughly the size of South Carolina, glaciers, alpine lakes, and river deltas. It is of great cultural significance to the region’s indigenous peoples, including the Gwich’in, who have relied on migratory porcupine caribou for generations. (Rangifer tarandus Granti) A herd that gives birth and gives birth to calves on the coastal plain. ANWR also provides important habitat for endangered polar bears.
ANWR has been at risk for oil exploration since the 2017 Republican Congress passed a bill allowing drilling in protected areas, despite opposition from many indigenous leaders and environmental groups. It’s been done.
State agency AIDEA is still leasing oil in ANWR, and another lease sale is required by 2024 as required by the 2017 Tax Code.
According to an email by BLM spokesperson Brian Hires, these oil leases have been canceled and may be sold in the future.
Since July, the Gwitchin Steering Committee has told Mongabay they have called on Congress and President Biden to abolish the lease to prevent it from being resold and to recognize the rights of overlooked Indigenous communities in Alaska. He said he came
“What’s happening in the Arctic goes beyond the Arctic,” the commission said in a statement to Mongabay. We need to understand that what is happening also extends to our own region, and the Arctic Refuge is where we must confront climate change.”
An estimated 1,400 gigatons of carbon is currently embedded in the permafrost of the world, mostly in the Arctic and subarctic, according to scientists. But predictions that the planet could experience dramatic and very dangerous warming if much of the existing permafrost remains unthreatened have discouraged the Biden administration’s energy goals. rice field.
In fact, the publication of an environmental analysis by the U.S. Department of the Interior on the ConocoPhillips project, known as Willow, aimed at oil development in Alaska’s National Oil Reserve, has been announced by the Biden administration as an endorsement of oil drilling in the United States. is considered to be The northern slopes of the state despite his election promises to ban new leases of oil and gas.
The project was later stopped by a federal judge who determined that the environmental review did not adequately consider the project’s climate change and wildlife impacts.
Willow’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) says the project will have similar impacts to ANWR’s oil drilling. According to his revised EIS for the project, oil extraction will devastate wetlands and wildlife habitat such as caribou and polar bears. Permafrost thaws. The comment period for the new draft EIS he closed on August 29, but it remains to be seen if the study will be approved. Meanwhile, ConocoPhillips said in his EIS that the company is in the process of obtaining other permits needed to start the Willow project.
Protecting Coastal Plains and Wildlife
But the fight against drilling in the Arctic is still ongoing. In September 2021, a group of conservationists sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow oil and gas operators to harass, harm, and kill polar bears on land and water in Arctic Alaska. I objected to the rule that
“These lands are sacred and we, the people of Gwitchin, will never give up fighting to defend our Arctic reserve,” said Bernadette Demientiev, executive director of the Gwitchin Steering Committee. said at the conference.
A bill pending in both houses of Congress would protect the right to live of Arctic indigenous peoples while also protecting the coastal plains’ safe haven by designating them as wilderness under the National Wildlife Conservation System. This prevents coastal plains from being leased to oil and gas companies.
“Laws advocating climate change must include protection of sacred land in Arctic reserves from excavation,” Demientiev said at a press conference.
Apart from KAS and Regenerate Alaska giving up their respective parcels, Chevron and Hilcorp paid Arctic Slope Regional Corporation $10 million to build a legacy that enabled oil and gas exploration in the Arctic Reserve in the 1980s. I finished my lease.
The United Nations has warned three times about the possible harm and human rights violations of the Gwich’in by its proposed oil and gas development on the sacred coastal plains.
Given the huge opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic, AIDEA needs to cancel leases and leave shelter to the people and wildlife who depend on Arctic shelters for survival, according to Environment America’s Montgomery. there is.
“While this impact is national, at the local level, Arctic Indigenous communities, particularly the Gwich’in, face existential threats to their villages and cultures,” the Commission said.
The Gwich’in are just one of many Alaska Native groups that oppose the extractive industry. In the remote Yukon-Kuskokwim region in the southwest of the state, three different Alaska Native groups—the Yup’ik, the Chu’pic, and the Athabaskan—opposed plans to build a 6,474-hectare (15,998-acre) open-pit gold mine near Kuskokwim. I’m here. river basin. There are concerns that the project will have serious impacts on salmon habitats, traditional lifestyles and community health.
The Gwich’in Commission says their fight against oil drilling at ANWR is not over. “While we welcome the news of these withdrawals, they are a reminder that more needs to be done to protect this sacred land, animals and people,” the committee said in a statement.
Banner image: A polar bear cuddle with her cub along the Beaufort Sea coast in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Suzanne Miller/USFWS)
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