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Know the West

Feds to open most of Arctic refuge coastal plain to drilling

Despite ecological harm, energy development moves forward in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


The Gwich’in Steering Committee is against opening up the refuge for drilling.


Some Republicans and energy companies have long sought access to the estimated 10 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil in the coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The 1.5-million-acre area provides essential habitat for caribou calving, polar bears and migratory birds. Although environmentalists, Alaska Native groups and moderate Republicans tried to protect it, Congress passed a bill in 2017 requiring the Bureau of Land Management to begin leasing the area to energy companies (“In Alaska, wildlands lose out to roads and drill rigs,HCN, 2/28/18).



In late December, the BLM released an environmental impact statement whose three options would open between 66 and 100 percent of the plain to leasing. The agency acknowledges that development could impact subsistence hunters and wildlife, cause water and air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of permafrost and vegetation, and reduce recreational opportunities, but energy companies have already applied to begin seismic exploration. Public comment on the BLM study is open until March 13.

Note: This story has been updated to include the extended public comment deadline, March 13.