Washington, DC August 22, 2019 – The Trump administration’s high-profile effort to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development appears to have run aground, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). With prospects of a one-term presidency looming, the effort to secure oil leases before January 2021 has induced undue haste by top officials within the Department of Interior, causing them to cut corners and assume additional risks.
The Trump initiative is suffering from several, simultaneous breakdowns, including –
- Mounting internal reports of scientific suppression that make any leasing package vulnerable to legal challenge. Revelations that top political officials are directing suppression of objections raised by agency scientific and resource professionals is providing potent fodder for future lawsuits challenging the validity of required environmental reviews;
- The abrupt resignation of Joe Balash, Interior’s assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management and the highest-ranking Alaskan serving in DC. By his own telling, Balash was the administration’s point person for delivering Arctic Refuge petroleum leases. Balash also orchestrated censorship of critical findings by Interior’s own specialists; and
- Abandonment of seismic surveys on the refuge’s Coastal Plain, where leasing would occur. This means lease bidders will lack reliable information on available oil reserves.
“The timeline to open the Arctic Refuge during this presidential term leaves little margin for error, and that margin has been well exceeded,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch. “By trying to deny the significant environmental impacts, Interior is painting itself into a corner and showing just what a tangled web is weaved from its practices to deceive.”
Meanwhile, the firm selected to conduct those seismic surveys, SAExploration Holdings, Inc., just announced that it is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission over accounting irregularities. Its Chief Financial Officer has been fired, its Board Chairman replaced, and a new Chief Executive Officer is expected to be named soon.
“There have been no seismic studies of the Arctic Coastal Plain since the 1980s, reducing any upcoming lease sale to a gigantic pig in a poke,” added Ruch, noting that oil exploration in the Arctic Refuge was slipped into a 2017 tax cut bill as a supposed revenue generator. “With the world market awash with oil, the Arctic lease sale is more likely to be a revenue bust than boon.”