Scientists Repeatedly Ignored in Alaska Oil Drilling Environmental Review Process

When President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law in January 2018, it contained a two-page section that effectively opened up 1.6 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil and gas leases.

The ANWR is presumed to be one of the greatest onshore oil deposits in North America. Its ecosystem is also critical habitat for polar bears and caribou, and provides land for subsistence hunting communities in Alaska.

On December 11, 2018, Mother Jones published a memo circulated within the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). The memo, written by scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), warned that the use of seismic surveys to explore oil opportunities in the ANWR could threaten polar bear populations. Both officials at the DOI and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have ignored these concerns, and instead have continued to push this project forward.

On March 12, 2019, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) issued a press release revealing the DOI’s failure to consider and publish 18 expert-written memos that address critical information gaps about the potential impacts of oil drilling in the ANWR. In addition to being withheld from the DOI’s draft environmental assessment, these documents were not released even after multiple advocacy groups filed Freedom of Information Act requests.

On April 25, 2019, E&E News published and Science Magazine reposted comments sent by the FWS on the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) to the BLM, warning that the draft EIS downplayed impacts of climate change too much, and that such impacts should be addressed in the final EIS. These comments were sent on March 13, 2019, the day after PEER leaked the 18 memos.