The U.S. Government wants to drill into the Arctic Refuge. We drilled into its environmental review.
Written by Malkolm Boothroyd, Campaigns Coordinator
The U.S. Government is determined to auction the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge away to the oil industry — but must comply with its own environmental protection laws. For the past eighteen months the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been racing to complete an environmental review, cutting corners, stifling science and limiting public involvement the whole way through. Late last week the Bureau released its Final Environmental Statement (Final EIS) on the impacts of drilling in the Arctic Refuge. There’s one huge question that remains. Is this legal?
The Final EIS concludes that Gwich’in communities would not experience significant adverse impacts to subsistence rights — a hugely troubling denial. The Bureau failed to comprehensively address the impacts of drilling in the Arctic Refuge on Gwich’in communities that depend on the Porcupine caribou herd, especially on communities within Canada. In a handful of sentences the Final EIS vaguely acknowledges some of the impacts that communities such as Old Crow could experience, but goes no further. The Bureau’s failure to properly address subsistence impacts to Gwich’in communities within Canada is unacceptable, especially considering the wealth of traditional knowledge and number of concerns raised by Gwich’in that were available for the agency’s consideration.
The Final EIS claims that “the likelihood of large-scale changes in caribou abundance, migration, or distribution are low.” The Bureau largely discounts the findings of a comprehensive study on the Porcupine caribou herd’s vulnerability to oil drilling that Canadian researchers completed this January. The study looked at the impacts of various drilling scenarios on the herd’s population. They found that under the Bureau’s preferred drilling scenario, the Porcupine caribou herd could decline by 17% or 18% over ten years, depending on the starting population size.
The Bureau chooses to dispute these findings. Instead the Final EIS concludes “while the [Porcupine] caribou population size would continue to fluctuate, but based on the hypothetical development scenario, potential impacts to herd size as a result of displacement of maternal caribou are still anticipated to be negligible. Potential impacts to herd size as a result of behavior, feeding, and body condition changes are not anticipated to impact population size.” This is an exceptional claim — that building a spiderweb of oil infrastructure in the heart of the Porcupine caribou herd’s calving grounds would have no impact on the herd’s population. The Bureau arrives at this conclusion without conducting any quantitative analysis of its own.
The Bureau of Land Management deserves some credit. After all they corrected their omission of the ‘L’ in gyrfalcon and peregrine falcon that appeared in their Draft EIS. Unfortunately, the Bureau failed to address the substantive problems with its environmental review.
The Final EIS affirms what has been clear all along, that the Bureau is brushing aside environmental laws in its reckless push to auction the Arctic Refuge to oil companies. But the U.S. Government doesn’t get to ignore its environmental laws. CPAWS Yukon and many other groups are now actively investigating ways to take the Bureau of Land Management to court over this Final Environmental Impact Statement.