The Department of the Interior (DOI) is beginning a public comment scoping process to prepare an environmental assessment ahead of potential oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The Bureau of Land Management issued a press release Thursday ahead of publishing the notice in the Federal Register Friday, opening a 60-day public comment window. Public comments will help officials identify the scope of issues needing to attention in the Environmental Impact Statement of drilling in ANWR.
“Developing our resources on the Coastal Plain is an important facet for meeting our nation’s energy demands and achieving energy dominance,” DOI Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash said in a statement. “This scoping process begins the first step in developing a responsible path forward. I look forward to personally visiting the communities most affected by this process and hearing their concerns.”
The notice is the first step to drilling in the “1002 Area” of ANWR, 1.5 million acres of the refuge set aside as an oil reserve under section 1002 of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
The BLM notice comes about four months after President Donald Trump signed a bill granting Congressional authorization to open the oil reserve up to exploration and potential drilling. The authorization was a significant victory for the administration and Alaska’s congressional delegation, ending a decades long fight to open the area to oil and gas development.
Alaska’s Congressional delegation of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young all joined in praising the announcement to “move forward on this important program to help ensure the energy and economic security of our nation.”
The first oil and gas lease sale will take place after the environmental assessment is concluded and offer at least 400,000 acres of “high-potential” land.
Environmentalists, who have consistently criticized the intent to open the 1002 Area for oil and gas drilling, criticized the administration for taking the key first step.
“Once again, the Trump administration appears to be racing to sell off America’s public lands, and they seem perfectly happy to shortcut normal processes and overlook the concerns of local communities in the pursuit of reckless development,” The Wilderness Society Alaska Regional Director Nicole Whittington-Evans said in a statement.
“This administration cannot possibly evaluate all of the relevant information and make informed decisions about the impacts of oil and gas on the refuge’s sensitive coastal plain in such a short amount of time,” Whittington-Evans added.
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