The majestic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The majestic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Photo: Getty

In a rare bit of good news about the partial government shutdown, President Trump’s dream of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border seems to be putting a damper on his administration’s plans to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil and gas drilling.


The government shutdown is causing this effort to hit delays as the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are unable to move forward with issuing permits for seismic testing, reports the Anchorage Daily News. Seismic testing, which involves using heavy machinery to blast sound waves underground, allows companies to determine how much oil and gas could be hiding beneath ANWR’s 1.6 million acres coastal plain, where Congress voted to allow drilling in 2017.

SAExploration was the first to apply to conduct seismic tests back in May. The company had originally planned to begin testing—which it can only conduct from December to May because that’s when there’s enough ice on the ground for the equipment and crews to reach the coastal plain—this month, with tests stretching into the following winter.


But without a permit, those tests haven’t started yet. And it’s unclear how long the government shutdown, which shows no signs of ending, might delay things.

“Every day delayed now is a delay to collecting seismic activity,” said Jeff Hastings, chief executive of SAExploration, to Anchorage Daily News. “It’ll mean less data.”

Sucks for them, but environmentalists must be thrilled. This process can leave scars on the land, which is exactly what happened the last time companies tried to drill in the 1980s. And of course, the more delays, the more time they have to prepare to fight future drilling efforts.

Many environmental groups and Alaska Natives don’t want any drilling here because it’s one of the last untouched landscapes in the U.S. Plus, it’s an important habitat for polar bears and the Porcupine caribou herd, which the indigenous Gwich’in rely on for food and culture.


The public comment period for the project began Friday, December 28, but any agencies closed due to the shutdown can’t comment until they’re back in action. The public still has access, but agencies need to provide expert comment, too.

Drilling isn’t expected to take place in the ANWR for another couple of years at least, so this delay shouldn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Still, things have been moving a lot more slowly than SAExploration, at least, anticipated.


[h/t Anchorage Daily News]

Yessenia Funes is a senior staff writer with Earther. She loves all things environmental justice and dreams of writing children's books.

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