Ecological Importance and Human Rights Be Damned, Trump Admin Says Fossil Fuel Pillaging in Arctic Refuge Coming Soon

Jerri-Lynn here. Trump has pledged to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil fuel drilling, and as this post describes, Interior Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash told an industry gathering last week in Alaska that leases will be offered for sale later this year.

This move will undoubtedly be subject to a legal challenge – which would at minimum delay the administration’s  timeline to offer leases for sale.  US federal district court judge Sharon Gleason in March voided Trump’s 2017 executive order opening Arctic waters to oil drilling. Gleason’s order reinstates existing limits to offshore oil and gas leasing in the Arctic, which includes most of the Beaufort Sea and all of the Chukchi Sea, as reported by Arctic Today in Court ruling on offshore Arctic leasing creates new obstacle for planned Beaufort sale.

A bipartisan group of House members have introduced a bill to amend the 2017 tax bill to remove the section that opened the refuge to drilling, as reported by the Hill in Lawmakers introduce bill to ban drilling in Alaska wildlife refuge. This measure is not a serious obstacle to Tump’s plans.. Even if the full House passed it, the Republican-controlled Senate would likely vote it down; and in the unlikely event that Congress passed the bill, Trump would certainly veto it.

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer, Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. (Photo: USFWS/Flickr/cc)

Interior Dept. statement that “lease sale will happen in 2019” comes as oil companies face heat over possible extraction on previously protected public land

Environmental and indigenous activists are hoping to make sure the Trump administration’s promise to soon sell oil leases in the previously protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is never fulfilled.

Republicans laid the groundwork for the fossil fuel leases in the refuge’s 1.6 million-acre coastal plain in a “deplorable” provision in their 2017 tax law. The administration followed through in December with a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for granting the leases. And with a final draft EIS expected in August, an administration official said Thursday that an oil sale would happen before the year’s over.

Speaking at an oil industry conference in Anchorage, Interior Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash said, “Once we have a final EIS, we will be in a position to issue a record of decision and notice of lease sale. And that lease sale will happen in 2019.”

Among the issues at hand: the land is sacred to Gwich’in; it is the site of the planet’s longest land-based mammal migration—that of the porcupine caribou herd; extraction and exploration would disrupt other wildlife; and it would add fuel to the climate crisis.

A group of teachers and scholars wrote earlier this year about the potential threats, noting that the draft EIS failed “to address the ecological impacts of drilling”:

Fossil fuel development in the Coastal Plain would devastate an Arctic nursery of global significance. It would violate human rights, jeopardize food security, and threaten the health and safety of Indigenous communities. It would contribute to the escalating crises of climate change and biological annihilation. The Arctic Refuge is an irreplaceable ecological treasure.

Given such impacts, oil giants including BP and Chevron were targeted during shareholder meetings this week, where demonstrators demanded they not drill in the public lands. Bank behemoths that would finance the extraction have been targeted as well.

Among those who wanted to deliver a message to Exxon at a shareholder meeting this week was Donald Tritt, a representative of the Gwich’in.

In a statement shared on Twitter—the oil company didn’t let him speak—Tritt said that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would not only affect his family today, “but future generations to come.”

“The cost of drilling in the coastal plains is just too high for my people and the reputation of any company that decide to lease there,” he said. “Leasing in the Coastal Plain is bad for business at a time the world is turning away from fossil fuel[s].”

The Sierra Club agreed.

“Major banks and oil companies will continue hearing from the public and their shareholders loud and clear that the Arctic Refuge is no place for drilling,” said Ben Cushing, a campaign representative for the group, on Thursday.

“Pursuing drilling in this unique wilderness would be bad for the environment, bad for human rights, and bad for their bottom line,” he added. “The public is watching and demanding that these companies commit to staying out of the Arctic Refuge.”

The Wilderness Society, which also opposes drilling the refuge, suggested the leasing decision is a likely outcome given the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s record as a former oil industry lobbyist.

“We said it once and we’ll say it again,” the group said. “We can’t trust an oil lobbyist to manage #PublicLands.”

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  1. Edward

    The strategy for stopping this may be to block this drilling until the 2020 election and hope a decent democrat defeats Trump. Many issues may have this strategy.

    1. Carol Sterritt

      A decent Democrat? Don’t think that right off the top of my head I could name a single one.
      Bernie proved to be a tool, when he refused to join Election Activists across the nation. These activists were trying to take the issue of the DNC stealing the Priamry away from Bernie and giving it to Hillary. He did not want to “appear to be about sour grapes.” Unfortunately in spme 12 voting districts in the US, judges ruled that he was the only person of standing who could move the issue forward in the courts. Only in the 13th district, in San Diego County Calif, did a judge rule that voters themselves have a right to expect integrity in the handling of their ballots. So an activist group was allowed to proceed without the Sanders-meister.
      Then in Jan 2017 the court ruled that the DNC had stolen the 2016 primary away from Bernie Sanders. Too bad BS cares so little about a citizens’ fundamental right to vote in untainted elections.

  2. Tony Wright

    Another groan inducing decision by the current US administration. How low does the Republican Party set the bar for the decision making of the White House? What does Trump have to do before he gets serious push back from his own party?
    And the human footprint on the Earth gets ever bigger and harder.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      This is not uniquely Trumpian. This has long been a Core Establishment Republican goal and demand.
      This low bar is a bar that Trump is limbo-ing under in ORder to KEEP Republican support.

      This policy is pure petro-Cheney, petro-Bush, petro-Reagan, etc.

      1. Science Officer Smirnoff

        Quite. Proto-Bush-Cheney.

        It would be more than useful for the electorate to see graphics (say, a Venn diagram) of what have been merely majority Republican, Bush-Cheney Republican, and far-rightist-Trump in major acts and attempted actions. Daily and exhaustively.

        Anybody for independent journalism?

        1. Code Name D

          To make maters worse, when ever Democrats were to take power, thy did little if anything to reverse the damage done to regulations or their inforcment. No one is ever held accountable, and the regime is never chalanged.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            That will remain true as long as the DLC/Hamilton Project/Third Way/Clintonite/Obamazoid Catfood Democrats own and control the Party.

            If the New Deal Revivalists can reconquer the Party and purge and burn and exterminate every Catfood Democrat from out of the Party, then that may not be a future declintaminated Democratic Party pattern of behavior.

      2. fajensen

        This is not uniquely Trumpian.

        The Dims will find it hard to embrace and extend the workings of Donald Trump, but, as with Reagan, Bush, and Bush+Cheney they will find a way to do it and even bump it by 10%!

      3. Carol Sterritt

        Please, there have been few leaders on either side of the aisle that care to implement any type of serious regulations regarding drilling and fracking. Biden’s son sat inside a Big Energy company and let his father arrange the skinhead revolt against the people of the Ukraine for the purposes of his son and that energy firm reaping the rewards of raping the shale oil underneath the lands of the Ukraine. Jerry Brown lets the Energy companies frack to their hearts contents here in California.
        Caring about the environment is something those who claim to do really don’t. Talk speaks louder than actions, I guess.

  3. Daniel Helmer

    ANWR is over 19 million acres, approximately the same size as the state of South Carolina. The proposed drilling area is only about 3 thousand acres, and of that only a few hundred acres are necessary for oil development. (Ice roads, drill pads, storage area, etc)
    All the development would take place in the winter, on top of the snow and ice, leaving the tundra beneath intact.
    Oil companies have been operating on Alaska’s north slope for over 50 years, with no I’ll effects. Alaska would cease to exist if it we’re not for oil development. It is our life blood. The Native people protesting development of ANWR are literally biting the hand that feeds them. Caribou will not die. Subsistence living will not end. It is all hype.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      “Alaska would cease to exist if it were not for oil development.” ??? Arguing that Alaska’s very existence hinges on oil is tantamount to arguing Alaska is nothing more than a bunch of boom towns that will all shut down as soon as the oil is depleted. If that’s true — then Alaska seems hardly worth saving. Is that all there is to Alaska? — Just boom towns for gold and silver and now oil?

      I suppose I can agree with your assertion “Subsistence living will not end.” Anyone remaining in the Alaska ghost towns would have to subsist or they wouldn’t live there.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      If the actual physical footprint areas of the drillpads, etc. were added together, those little physical areas might well add up to only 3 thousand acres. But if they are widely scattered over a huge area, then all the roads and other activity between all of them, plus their negative effect on the land and life around the little tippy-toeprints , covers a huge area of land in the same way that a spider web covers a huge area of air. But you could roll that spider web up into a little ball the size of a bb. And say that a spider web is only one-bb big. I believe that could be called the spider-web effect.

      And then of course there will be all the destructo rights of way for the pipelines getting the oil out and over to the Alaska Pipeline of today. Unless the plan would be to pipeline the ANWR oil all the way over to the Alberta Tar Sands in order to mix it with the tar to make the tar easier to pipe.

      If the Alaska economy is really nothing but oil, then the Alaska economy really is nothing at all. Which would be revealed when the oil runs out. Now . . . would the tourist economy, salmon economy, king crab economy, etc. Alaskans support the theory that the Alaska economy is nothing but oil?

      About the Native Nations protesting ANWR drilling . . . . what hand is it which feeds them? How are they biting it?

      It may be said that since I am a lower 48er, it is none of my bussiness. To which I would reply that since the ANWR is the Public Property of all 50 State-loads of citizens, then it is my bussiness. Either one 50th of my bussiness or one 350 millionth of my bussiness, depending on whether we are saying all the STATES co-own the ANWR or all the CITIZENS co-own the ANWR.

      It becomes my survival bussiness from another standpoint. Yet more oil pumping and drilling means yet more oil selling and buying and then more oil burning, which means more carbon skydumping. If our survival depends on LESS carbon skydumping, then drilling in ANWR is a threat to my brute physical survival because it will cause MORE carbon skydumping. Which means more Ocean Acidation (which could be harmful to salmon and king crabs) and more Global Heatering, which is bad for whomever is suffering the down-heat effects in question.

    3. Edward

      “Oil companies have been operating on Alaska’s north slope for over 50 years, with no I’ll effects.”

      There was the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

      “Alaska would cease to exist if it we’re not for oil development.”

      Alaska sounds like West Virginia. It needs to diversify its economy.

    4. Wombat

      A cursory look at the Environmental Impact statement reveals your assertion about developed acreage to be false.

      Even without your false and misleading extraction playbook talking points, how is a couple hundred acres of roads and other oil development supposed to make a difference for the livelihood of Alaskans? A couple hundred acres is nothing and you know it.

    5. Darius

      Nice try, Donald Helmer. This bogus talking point was debunked repeatedly. Nevertheless it was a mantra of Bush Administration officials, like oil industry plant, Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

      It’s like saying a dining table actually occupies just four square inches of floor space, because that’s all the space that is occupied by the four table feet. The table top doesn’t count. So there. I’m sorry. This is a fallacy.

      If you take a wilderness and criss cross it with roads, run roaring diesel exhaust-belching trucks all over the place, and put up drilling towers here and there, it’s no longer a wilderness. It’s an industrial site.

  4. drumlin woodchuckles

    All the legal and political things which people already know about should of course be tried.

    I can think of something else which should perhaps be tried. How many millions of members of Team Blue truly hate Trump with a hatred which is rare and true? Could those people transfer their hatred to the particular oil companies who buy leases in the ANWR? Could those people further extend their hatred to all the next-step downstream companies to which the “first wellhead” lease companies sell their oil?

    If One Hundred Million Blue Trump Haters were really and truly prepared to co-ordinate the mutual co-strangling of their own lifestyles to sweat all possible oil and oil products all the way out of their daily lives . . . and if they could target this strangulation against the particular targets selling oil from ANWR, perhaps One Hundred Million True Blue Trump Haters could torture the targeted oil companies into giving up those leases or deciding not to drill after all.

    Bill McKibben supposedly has a big fan base. Why doesn’t he suggest something like this?

    1. pretzelattack

      it’s a good suggestion, some kind of general strike against fossil fuels.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Or at least a general consumption slowdown and consumption cutback. A total strike is too much to ask for, because the civilization has been carefully designed with evil malice aforethought to run on oil. If we cut oil use to immediate zero, we will all die in the dark.

        But we can certainly cut oil use in half by steady strangle-down degrees over time. We would make civilization run smaller and run slower without any deaths at all. And if One Hundred Million Trump Haters plus all the Environmentalists and Hook ‘n Bullet Conservationists who are otherwise Trump Neutralists were to cut their oil use by 50%, that would be as painful to the oil industry as if ALL Americans had cut their oil use by 25%. And since everybody knows that Hatred Makes the World Go Round, if a Hundred Million Or More people could feel the hate, cherish it and apply it to the target, those Hundred Million Plus could make the difference which makes a difference.

        And if they could target their oil use shrinkdown against the particular companies which handle the ANWR oil, they could possibly exterminate the perpetrators, which is the truest punishment there is. And which might even shut ANWR operations all the way back down to zero.

  5. Arizona Slim

    Just spitballing here, but what if the environmental activists and indigenous people bought these leases?

  6. Jeremy Grimm

    I suppose the US has its piece of the Arctic to despoil. Not to diminish Trump’s contributions [maybe Dick Cheney could make a bigger mess?] — most of the action will play around Canada, Russian, and efforts by the US and possibly China to get a hand in the action.

    “Among the issues at hand: the land is sacred to Gwich’in; it is the site of the planet’s longest land-based mammal migration—that of the porcupine caribou herd; extraction and exploration would disrupt other wildlife” — — — “and it would add fuel to the climate crisis.”

    I like polar bears and caribou herds and all that and of course let’s not forget the rights of indigenous peoples everywhere, and ‘climate justice’ — doesn’t Climate Chaos have more traction as an issue?

  7. drumlin woodchuckles

    Well , no. Actually Climate Chaos does not have more traction as an issue. It would be nice if it did. But it doesn’t. And after the Catfood Democrats throw election 2020 to Team Trump yet again, Climate Chaos will spend 4 more lonely years as an orphan issue without any traction. It makes me sad, but . . . oh well.

    We go to petro-political war with the issues we have, not the issues we wish we had or would prefer to have had at a later time.

    So if it is Caribou and polar bears and Gwich’in Rights which have more traction, then those are the issues we have to weaponize and take into combat as best we can.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Caribou and polar bears and Gwich’in Rights make strange echo with identity politics or the way environmental issues and women’s lib took the teeth out of the anti-war demonstrations while dulling the impact of the Limits to Growth. I believe identity politics was designed to splay larger economic issues and spread their base into many tribes of supporters for some favored solutions to a favored mini-problem while the larger issue went limping to the side. I also believe this was not a simple case of the ‘market-of-ideas’ selecting issues with traction.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        You may be exactly correct as to the causes. The effect is exactly what I said. So here we are.

  8. Luke

    1) Speaking as a geologist employed in the oil industry, I second that the relative impact of oil drilling is actually quite small. The roads are handy things for everyone from locals to would-be visitors who wish to come see nature (but can’t get there otherwise). Also, the area that oil drilling takes up is miniscule compared with any kind of renewable/alternative energy utilization.

    2) Where there are oil deposits, they’re eventually going to get drilled for. They’re in large part unusual, so can’t be drilled for just anywhere.

    3) I find ubiquitous the blatant hypocrisy in environmentalists decrying the fossil fuels industry, who commonly DRIVE to their protest meetings. (They also type in their gripes about the oil industry on computers with plenty of plastic components, in houses often heated by natural gas, after meals made from crops fertilized almost completely by petroleum-derived fertilizers and pesticides, etc.) I figure only the people who don’t use petroleum in any way (including goods transported by gasoline/diesel/etc. fuel) are the only ones who can reasonably want the oil industry throttled back. Put more succinctly, “The only sincere environmentalists have all already committed suicide. The rest are hypocrites.”

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