The Government Shutdown Has Stalled Trump’s Plan to Drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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[h/t Anchorage Daily News]

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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An interesting analysis of ANWR development schedule from EIA (which by the way, will remain up and running for a while at least during the shutdown).

Analysis of Projected Crude Oil Production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The legislation to open up ANWR was the December 2017 tax cut for the rich foreign investors act. The above report was written in May 2018. Since then, development was fast tracked, (see ANWR EIS cut and paste job).

Development of ANWR is based on the old, “hey, didn’t we drill a well once back in the ‘80s.

Much uncertainty surrounds the ANWR projections because production has not yet occurred in the area. The only well drilled in the coastal plain was completed in 1986, and the results have remained confidential. Federal resource estimates are based largely on the oil productivity of geologic formations in neighboring state lands in Alaska and two-dimensional seismic data that had been collected by a petroleum industry consortium in 1984 and 1985.

In the report, lease sales were assumed to go full out by 2021 with production not starting until 2031. A lag between opening up federal land for oil and gas development and producing oil and gas is around ten years. With fast track that timeline may be closer to five or six years. So we’re talking around a 2025 production start (instead of 2031).

A pretty picture of where’s it at:

A lot of pristine nature to fuck up for not much oil and gas. Fucking jagoffs.

Under fast track ANWR development assume a 2025 start so move the yellow, green and burnt sienna plot fill in colors over to the left.