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White House releases new plan for seismic tests in Arctic Refuge

Shared from the 10/25/2020 The Denver Post eEdition

ALASKA By Henry Fountain
© The New York Times Co.


The Trump administration has relaunched long-delayed plans to conduct a seismic survey in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as a prelude to drilling for oil there.

The Bureau of Land Management on Friday released a proposal to begin a seismic survey in December that would look for underground signs of oil reserves over more than half a million acres on the east side of the refuge’s coastal plain. The bureau said it would accept public comments on the plan, which was proposed by an Alaska Native village corporation, for 14 days before deciding whether to issue a permit.

Environmental and conservation groups in Alaska and elsewhere immediately criticized the action, saying it would permanently harm the delicate arctic tundra and affect polar bears and other wildlife in what is one of the most remote and pristine parts of the United States.

“The submission of this application and BLM’s choice to act on it so close to the election shows how desperate the administration is to turn over one of the nation’s most sensitive landscapes to the oil industry,” Lois Epstein, director of the arctic program for the Wilderness Society, said in a statement. “The federal government is recklessly rushing and irresponsibly denying the public adequate time to assess the application and submit comments.”

The land that would be surveyed is part of the so-called 1002 Area, which the Trump Administration and Congress opened to oil and gas development in 2017, reversing decades of protections.

The 1002 Area is thought to overlie geological formations that might hold billions of barrels of oil, but that assessment is based largely on the only seismic survey ever conducted there, in the 1980s. Only one exploratory well has ever been drilled in the refuge, and a New York Times investigation found that the results were disappointing.

The new proposal, by the Kaktovik Inupiat Corp., would use improved technology that can produce three-dimensional images of underground formations. It would involve deploying heavy trucks across the tundra in a grid pattern, as well as supplies and mobile living quarters for a crew of 180 workers.

Because of the potential for damaging the tundra, the work could only be conducted when there was sufficient snow cover and frozen ground. But damage from the previous seismic work, which was also conducted in winter, can still be seen today.



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