After a decades-long battle, Congress passed legislation in December that mandates oil and gas drilling in the iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Congress buried the drilling provision in its controversial tax cut package. Now, just a few months later, the Trump Administration is rushing to sell off oil leases in the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain to oil companies.
The Administrations’ 18-Month Plan to Open the Arctic Refuge to Drilling.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) has indicated they would like to hold the first oil and gas lease sale – the process through which oil and gas companies buy the rights to develop areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – in a little over a year.
Thankfully, the process of leasing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies is complex and involves many opportunities for public engagement. Before the DOI can hold a lease sale they are required to go through an environmental review process, which will include multiple steps over several months.
On April 19, 2018 the DOI issued a Notice of Intent (NOI), formally kicking off its attempt to drill in the Refuge, and setting the stage for an aggressive and expedited process to allow pipelines, roads, and other development to be built in this incredible landscape. This “scoping phase” includes a 60-day public comment period (this is where you come in!), during which there will be five public meetings, all held in Alaska. The administration has a duty to use the information gathered from the public to inform what is included in the second phase of this process: the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
After this first 60-day public comment period, DOI will develop a draft EIS that will be released to the public with more details about oil and gas leasing and the impacts of those activities. For DOI to meet its aggressive timeline of drilling in the Arctic Refuge during the current administration, it will need to release its draft EIS this fall or early winter. When DOI releases this draft EIS, another 45-day public comment period will start. The DOI will take this additional feedback and incorporate it into its final EIS sometime in 2019. Once the final EIS is released, lease sales are permitted. The Administration hopes to hold a lease sale by the end of 2019, ahead of the 2020 election year.
In the meantime, leaders in Congress opposed to Arctic drilling will work to introduce and pass new legislation that would repeal the mandate to drill in the Arctic Refuge before any drilling happens. We will be involved in this effort and will keep you informed of ways to call on Congress to protect the Refuge.
To summarize, it’s all hands on deck for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for the next 18 months. As outlined above, during key moments in time your voice will be especially powerful. Thank you for being prepared to take action now, this fall, and during specific times in 2019.
Thank you for your continued dedication to our shared wild places! Stay tuned for more ways to stand up for the Arctic Refuge!