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Opponents of Arctic oil, gas drilling deride federal review

Washington — Opponents of oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are criticizing a US Interior Department environmental review as inadequate, previewing a potential legal battle which could thwart drilling in the Alaskan frontier area.

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The draft environmental impact statement, which Interior released in December, downplays the impact oil and gas drilling would have on Alaska's ANWR, these opponents said.

The environmental review "dramatically underestimates and discounts the permanent, irreversible damage that would result from drilling in the Arctic Refuge," the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning public policy research and advocacy organization, wrote in a January 10 report.

Interior's draft review "is a very weak product," said David Hayes, a former deputy Interior secretary and now head of New York University's state energy and environmental impact center. "On the one hand, it is straightforward in clearly stating the potential for enormous development on the Coastal Plain. But it really downplays the environmental impact."

The draft review, which said that ANWR has roughly 428,000 acres with a high potential for petroleum resources, downplays the risk of oil spills, the potential impact on polar bear and caribou habitat and the volume of greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas development, according to the Center for American Progress.

"The flaws in this analysis reaffirm how fundamentally wrong it would be to drill the Arctic Refuge, and they underscore the need for Congress, the courts, or a future administration to stop this heedless rush and protect America's last great wilderness," the Center wrote.

A tax reform bill signed into law in 2017 by President Donald Trump requires Interior to hold at least two lease sales in ANWR by the end of 2024. These sales must both offer least 400,000 acres of the "highest hydrocarbon potential lands" within the Coastal Plain, and allow for 2,000 surface acres of federal land to be used for production and support facilities.

The area has an estimated 7.69 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil and 7.04 Tcf of technically recoverable gas, according to a 2005 study by the US Geological Survey.

Hayes said that despite claims from supporters of ANWR drilling that production will only take place on about 2,000 acres of the refuge, these estimates do not count elevated pipeline and other elements.

Opponents of ANWR drilling said that in addition to the environmental impact, development of ANWR is being pursued by the Trump administration in spite of limited, if any, interest from the oil and gas industry.

"While the hype is there, I don't know what the reality is," US Representative Raul Grijalava, an Arizona Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in an interview. "How many people are really looking for and wanting to get new permits for exploration and drilling?"

"With harsh conditions and significant upfront costs, drilling in the Arctic Refuge would be a costly endeavor," said a recent Wilderness Society report. "Even after buying leases and searching for oil, companies could conclude that it's not a wise investment to commit the serious time, capital, and resources to drill in the Arctic Refuge."

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In its Annual Energy Outlook released Thursday, the Energy Information Administration estimated that ANWR oil output would not begin until at least 2031 and result in anywhere from zero to 6.8 billion barrels of production, depending on a variety of factors, including oil price and technology advances.

--Brian Scheid,

--Edited by Jennifer Pedrick,