SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: June 26, 2020

SNIP: Along the northern edge of Alaska, millions of square miles of land are home to countless animal species—hundreds of thousands of caribou, scores of threatened bird species, polar bears and more.

This isn’t the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, although the same is true there. It’s the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a few hundred miles west of the refuge, and some of its most ecologically sensitive lands may soon be open for business to the oil industry.

Since early in the Trump administration, the U.S. Interior Department has sought to open new areas of the NPR-A to drilling, including the area around Teshekpuk Lake, a region that has long been considered too ecologically sensitive for drilling.

“Teshekpuk Lake is the feeding and calving grounds of our caribou, geese, fish we depend on for survival,” said Martha Itta, the tribal administrator of the Native Village of Nuiqsut, which is adjacent to the reserve. “Drilling in the Teshekpuk area would be devastating to our people. We will no longer be able to hunt being surrounded by industry. We will go hungry.”

Earlier this year, the Trump administration released a plan for drilling in part of the Alaskan Arctic that provided a range of options. A few of them expanded the area allowed for drilling, but only slightly. One, called Alternative D, opened up almost all of the region—including Teshekpuk Lake.

On Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management released its final environmental review and announced which option it preferred: Alternative D, plus 300,000 acres. The plan would make a total of roughly 6.8 million acres of previously protected land available for drilling.

“They have created a whole new alternative that actually opens more area to oil and gas leasing and exploration,” said Rebecca Noblin, a senior attorney for Earthjustice who specializes in the region. “It’s surprising that they would consider an alternative that wasn’t considered in the draft and that the public didn’t get a chance to comment on.”