February 26, 2024

A local group from Alaska failed to meet a critical deadline in their proposal to conduct a seismic survey at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Department of the Interior said. The failure effectively ends the survey that would have determined the location of the oil and gas reserves in part of the refuge in anticipation of drilling there.

A department spokeswoman, Melissa Schwarz, said the group, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, did not conduct reconnaissance flights to detect polar bear densities in the proposed survey area to send trucks and other surveying equipment across the coastal plain of the refuge this winter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the Home Office, had requested that three flights be conducted before Feb. 13 as part of the company’s application for a permit that made extensive efforts to avoid the animals during the full seismic survey would require.

Due to the missed deadline, Ms. Schwarz said the company had been advised “that her request is no longer feasible and the service does not intend to grant or deny approval.”

Separately, another interior agency, the Bureau of Land Management, has examined the company’s application for overall approval to conduct the survey. The decision not to respond to the polar bear permit makes the issue of the broader permit controversial, effectively nullifying the proposal.

The demise of the seismic survey has no direct impact on the oil and gas leases in the refuge, which were sold in January. This is the culmination of efforts by the Trump administration to open up the area to development. These leases are currently being reviewed by the White House in Biden, which opposes drilling.

The seismic survey decision is a victory for environmental groups and other opponents to allow oil and gas development in the Refuge, one of the greatest remaining expanses of pristine wilderness in the United States and an area also believed to be billions of dollars Barrel tops out of oil.

“This was an informed decision by the Home Office,” said Karlin Itchoak, Alaska State Director of the Wilderness Society. “The Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain provides the densest land polar bear habitat in the entire Arctic, and its importance will only increase as a result of the climate crisis.”

An official from Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Scientists and opponents of drilling had also raised concerns that moving heavy trucks and other equipment on the tundra would permanently damage the landscape, even in winter. Traces of 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 acres of refuge, the Trump administration began opening 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain for oil and gas development in 2017. In an auction held just weeks before President Trump’s departure, the Bureau of Land Management sold 10-year drilling and oil drilling leases on 11 lots totaling approximately 600,000 acres.

In reviewing these leases, the Biden administration is examining whether the Trump White House, in its rush to sell them, has compromised to continue the sale and then finalize the leases.

Even if the leases are not scrapped by the Biden government, the prospects for oil exploration in the refuge are dubious at best. Of the land for which leases were sold, two were bought by companies with little or no drilling experience. The other nine properties were bought by the state of Alaska, which had to sublet them to an oil company so that work could continue. There seems to be little interest at present in extracting oil from the refuge.