The Race to Save a Piece of the American Arctic

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<br />
<font face=”Arial” style=”font-size: 10pt;”>The Chukchi Sea serves as the western border to the National <br />Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. <font style=”font-size: 10pt;”>(Creative Commons: </font>
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<font style=”font-size: 10pt;”>
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/”>http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/</a>)</font>
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<p>In the July/August issue of <em>Utne Reader</em>, wildlife biologist Jeff Fair <a target=”_blank” title=”introduced us to theNational Petroleum Reserve-Alaska” href=”https://www.utne.com/environment/national-petroleum-reserve-alaska-zm0z12jazwil.aspx”>introduced us to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska</a>, an unlikely name for such a beautiful and
crucial wildlife habitat on Alaska’s North Slope. Writing for <em>
<a href=”http://www.audubonmagazine.org/”>Audubon Magazine</a>
</em>,
Fair offered some background on the 23-million-acre arctic reserve, the rich
variety of migratory birds and caribou that live there, and the miniscule
amount of oil being used as an excuse to introduce habitat-damaging oil
infrastructure.

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<p>While Congress mandated “maximum protection” for the
reserve’s wildlife from energy exploration and development back in 1976, the
reality is that every president since – from Carter to Obama – has done little
to ensure that protection. One could argue that they’ve actually made it easier
for petroleum interests to gain a foothold in the refuge. </p>
<p>In May 2011, responding to high gasoline prices and the
political call for greater domestic oil production, President Obama authorized
the Interior Department to begin conducting annual lease sales in the reserve
with that stipulation that “sensitive areas” be respected, specifically around
Teshekpuk Lake. As Fair notes, the reserve has been “open” for oil leasing to
private companies since 1981, but previous administrations haven’t extended the
habitat protections that Obama’s has. Whether that approach is maintained,
though, is the big question. </p>
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<br />Hoping to “facilitate the responsible development of the
abundant resources” in the reserve, the Bureau of Land Management released a
Draft Integrated Activity Plan and Environment Impact Statement on March 29
that <a href=”https://www.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=renderDefaultPlanOrProjectSite&projectId=5251&dctmId=0b0003e8800fbba3″>is
open to public comment until June 15</a>. The plan outlines four alternatives
to the current management strategy ranging from no changes (Alternative A), to
more significant habitat protection and oil and gas leasing on nearly 1/2 of
the reserve (Alternative B), to less significant habitat protection and oil and
gas leasing on 3/4 of the reserve (Alternative C), to widespread oil and gas
leasing while still “protecting surface resources with a collection of
protection measures” (Alternative D).</p>
<p>Wildlife supporters are most interested in seeing
Alternative B selected by the BLM, as it offers the greatest protections for
critical habitat around Teshekpuk
Lake, coastal bays and
lagoons, and 12 rivers throughout the reserve, while still offering oil and gas
leasing on nearly half of the reserve. And, as Eric Meyers, policy director of <a href=”http://ak.audubon.org/”>Audubon Alaska</a> notes, the amount of oil at
stake is truly miniscule. </p>
<p>”Based on the government’s analysis in the Draft EIS, the
difference between the alternative that would provide a true balance of oil
development and protection of surface/wildlife values (Alternative B), and the
next and far more aggressive oil development alternative (Alternative C)
amounts to only about two weeks of oil consumption some ten years into the
future,” said Meyers. “(It is) an entirely insignificant and inconsequential
volume of oil that would make no difference to oil prices or national
security.”</p>
<p>Meyers also emphasized that while the formal public comment
period ends June 15, the BLM will be deliberating on the final plan throughout
the summer, and concerned individuals should continue to <a href=”https://secure3.convio.net/nasaud/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=1273”>express
their views to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar</a>. “The Final EIS is not due
until the fall and that will be followed by a final Record of Decision, so
opportunities to be heard will continue,” said Meyers. </p>
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