New knockout for US Arctic drilling plans thanks to polar bears | Polarjournal
Female polar bears need snow caves to give birth to their cubs. On the north coast of Alaska, the animals have to move to the slopes of the mainland to do this because there is no more perennial ice. Because polar bears are protected, the location of snow dens must be mapped in advance to avoid disturbance during activities in the sanctuary. Symbolic image: Michael Wenger

The tug-of-war over proposed oil drilling in the largest U.S. Arctic protected area, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, has not stopped with the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Kaktovik Inupiat Corp (KIC), based in Kaktovik, which is in the middle of the protected area, is in favour of the extraction plans and has started to implement them after the auction in January 2021. But now they have to put those plans back on the back bench. Because the company, which is run by locals, made a capital mistake when it applied for preliminary seismic surveys and forgot about the polar bears in the region.

The KIC, when submitting plans for preliminary seismic surveys, forgot to map the snow caves of polar bear mothers and include an assessment of the potential for disturbance from seismic activity. This is reported by the agency Reuter with reference to a statement of the Ministry of Interior. “The company was advised today that their request is no longer actionable,” the ministry wrote. According to the spokeswoman, the company had let the deadline for submitting the necessary data pass unused. So Kaktovik Inupiat Corp’s plans have been put on hold again, at least for now.

The map shows the location of the contested “Section 1002” area. In the middle of it all lies the community of Kaktovik, whose inhabitants are in favour of oil and gas production. Several areas within this should now have been examined more closely with seismic surveys on the coast. Map: US Fish & Wildlife Service via Alaska Dept. of Interior

It seems a bit ironic that the local Inupiat-led company, of all things, has forgotten or neglected such an important aspect of the permitting process. For one thing, the region around Kaktovik is known for its polar bear population and is popular with tourists. On the other hand, it is imperative to include an assessment of any disturbances, especially those caused by seismic activity, with the submission. And that includes a map of polar bear dens in the area created with aerial photography. The reasons why the company did not provide this important data can only be guessed at. KIC has not yet released a statement. In any case, the Interior Department’s decision is another step backward for funding plans. For President Joe Biden, on his inauguration day, had issued a temporary halt to oil production in ANWR and promised a reassessment of the situation.

The village of Kaktovik is located on the so-called Alaska North Slope on an island directly on the Beaufort Sea. The 250 inhabitants of the village are mainly Inupiat, who live off hunting, fishing and tourism. The town was officially founded in 1971, but the island has been an Inupiat and Inuit trading centre with Alaska for centuries. Map: Michael Wenger / Google Earth

Despite US President Joe Biden’s temporary halt to production plans in ANWR on day one, the tug-of-war over oil production continues. That’s because some boroughs in Alaska, and particularly in the area of Kaktovik, want to move forward with development. Alaska itself has produced less and less crude oil in recent years and the price of crude oil is so low that large oil companies did not participate in the auction in January. But Governor Mike Dunleavy and also the Inupiat-led KIC believe that the extraction could be carried out in an “environmentally friendly and sustainable way” and avoid disturbing the fragile Arctic wildlife. However, numerous nature and environmental protection organisations and also representatives of indigenous organisations are calling for a halt to the extraction plans and are fighting them with all legal and media means. In their opinion, the assessments presented by the proponents were based on outdated data and did not take into account all aspects of nature conservation. The latest development in the conflict, which has been going on for decades, should certainly prove them right.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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