Oil Companies Lay The Ground Work For Drilling In ANWR


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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Several energy companies have begun the process required for drilling in ANWR, a remote Alaskan province long barred from petroleum exploration.

SAExploration and two Alaska native companies — Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation — have applied to conduct seismic work next winter in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, otherwise known as ANWR. The application is a major development since Congress passed legislation in 2017 opening Alaska’s northwest region to energy development.

SAExploration stated that “this partnership is dedicated to minimizing the effect of our operations on the environment,” adding that it would utilize small vehicles, sleds and biodegradable lubricants to avoid ecological damage.

A provision in the GOP-led tax cuts President Donald Trump signed into law in December put to rest a decades-long battle over ANWR. Since the 1980s, Democrats and other environmental groups resisted calls to open ANWR to oil and gas exploration. Empowered with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was able to push through legislation that authorized a portion of the refuge, known as the 1002 Area, up for exploration. (RELATED: Democrats Ignore Alaskans, Try To Close Down ANWR To Drilling)

Murkowski — a Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and has been a longtime supporter of ANWR drilling — is optimistic about her state’s future now that the refuge is open for development, providing jobs and economic relief to locals.

“We all recognize that Alaska needs to be able to develop our resources,” Murkowski said Thursday as she addressed the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s 2018 Conference. “Our unemployment rate is 7.3 percent, nearly twice the national average. Our state budget deficits are significant, shorting our ability to build infrastructure and provide essential services. We need the jobs, the revenues, and the security that new production will provide. That’s why we have worked so hard to put a plan in place to refill TAPS for another 40 years. But we also have to defend the gains we have made. We have to tell our story.”

However, it could be quite some time until actual drilling takes place. As for the application submitted by SAExploration, the Department of the Interior’s response was not exactly promising. “This plan is not adequate,” the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service said in a reply, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. The Interior added that the application showed “a lack of applicable details for proper agency review.”

While their initial response was scathing, the Alaska office of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management said Wednesday it’s still reviewing the application.

Joe Balash, a top Interior Department official, said a lease sale in the U.S. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could be reached as soon as July 2019.

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