The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is reviewing a permit application for seismic exploration for the fragile coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Seismic exploration would profoundly impact this important landscape for decades, scarring the tundra, damaging critical habitat for imperiled polar bears and potentially causing the death of denning mother bears with cubs. ?
The proposal calls for damaging 3D seismic surveys covering over 540,000 in the coastal plain, with mobilization beginning around December 31, 2020. The equipment to be mobilized includes 12 “thumper” trucks weighing 90,000 pounds, over 40 Tucker vehicles and tractors, and 50 camp trailers supporting a crew of 180 people through the end of May. The project would require the construction of temporary airstrips on the coastal plain, supporting an unspecified number of airplane landings and takeoffs. The proposed route to the survey area would entail a 136-mile trek through critical polar bear denning habitat, and the survey work area covers thousands of additional acres of critical polar bear habitat as well. Yet BLM is offering just a two-week comment period on the proposal and plans to prepare only a brief “environmental assessment” under the National Environmental Policy Act – a document that has not been shared with the public.?
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:?
“The Bureau of Land Management is rushing to rubberstamp risky and destructive seismic exploration in the home of one of the most imperiled polar bear populations in the world. Despite the significant impacts this will cause, the agency is attempting a hasty and superficial review of the damage it will cause to the refuge and polar bears, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. What’s more, the exploration company is mired in bankruptcy, with former executives arrested and charged with multi-million-dollar accounting fraud. BLM must stop its reckless push to develop in the coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and listen to Americans who want this area protected for future generations.”
The Risks of Seismic?
- Seismic would involve crews of people and vehicles driving across the tundra dragging sled camps, building temporary infrastructure (including airstrips),?using significant water resources, and creating extensive noise, vibration and disturbance. The 90,000-pound seismic vehicles and pulling caravans of vehicles and bulldozers pulled on large steel runners to establish camps would leave deep, lasting scars across the coastal plain. Impacts to wildlife and wilderness would be severe.?
- Oil exploration would occur during polar bear denning season, in critical habitat for the threatened Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population. These bears only number about 900 individuals, a 50% decline over the last two decades.?
- Seismic testing could frighten mother bears from their dens, leaving cubs to perish, and seismic vehicles could even run over den sites, crushing bears to death, and contributing further to species decline.?
- Executives that until recently headed the company that would do the seismic work, SAExploration, are facing charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission of a four-year $100 million dollar accounting fraud, and the company filed for bankruptcy in August.