Drilling a threat to Alaskan refuge

Trump is clear­ing the way for oil ex­plo­ration along an Arc­tic wildlife area

StarMetro Vancouver - - CANADA & WORLD - Henry Foun­tain and Steve Eder

It is the last great stretch of noth­ing­ness in the United States, a vast land­scape of mosses, sedges and shrubs that is home to mi­grat­ing cari­bou and the win­ter dens of po­lar bears.

But the Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge — a fed­er­ally pro­tected place of aus­tere beauty that dur­ing a re­cent fly­over was painted white by heavy snow­fall — is on the cusp of ma­jor change.

The big­gest un­tapped on­shore trove of oil in North Amer­ica is be­lieved to lie be­neath the refuge’s coastal plain along the Beau­fort Sea. For more than a gen­er­a­tion, op­po­si­tion to drilling has left the refuge largely un­scathed, but now the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, work­ing with Repub­li­cans in Congress and an in­flu­en­tial and wealthy Alaska Na­tive cor­po­ra­tion, is clear­ing the way for oil ex­plo­ration along the coast.

Decades of pro­tec­tions are un­wind­ing with ex­tra­or­di­nary speed as Repub­li­cans move to lock in drilling op­por­tu­ni­ties be­fore the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views with over three dozen peo­ple and a re­view of in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment and fed­eral doc­u­ments.

To that end, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is on pace to fin­ish an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment in half the usual time. An even shorter eval­u­a­tion of the con­se­quences of seis­mic test­ing is near­ing com­ple­tion. Within months, trucks weigh­ing up to 90,000 pounds could be con­duct­ing the tests across the tun­dra as they try to pin­point oil re­serves.

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