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Trump Opens Alaskan Wildlife Refuge to Oil Drilling

Updated on February 5, 2018
Stephen Sinclair profile image

Stephen Sinclair is a Canadian freelance writer who has been publishing professionally for several years.

Black Fish Lake, in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Black Fish Lake, in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge | Source

Previously closed coastal plain approved for drilling

Recent comments made by President Donald Trump with regard to a remote Alaskan oil field have left some observers asking, "What is ANWR?"

ANWR stands for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It encompasses 19.3 million acres of land, including "the 1.5 million acres of coastal land between the Brooks Range and the Beaufort Sea" known as the "1002 area," as reported by the Alaska Wilderness League and Scientific American.

A 1980 law signed by former President Jimmy Carter "left the decision over whether to allow drilling inside the 1002 area up to Congress, a deal conservationists often called the 'great compromise,'" writes Scientific American.

President Trump's comments about ANWR were made to a group of Republicans at a congressional West Virginia retreat, as reported by Real Clear Politics.

The president described how a friend, who "is in that world," meaning the oil and gas industry, approached him and asked, "Is it true you're thinking about ANWR?"

Where is ANWR?

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA

get directions

The December 2017 tax bill passed by Republicans includes provisions to open the remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Industry 'friend' encourages Trump to support ANWR drilling

"I said, 'Yeah, I think we're going to get it, but, you know,'" Trump recounted his words to his oil industry friend.

"Are you kidding? That's the biggest thing," the president said, portraying his friend's statement. "'Ronald Reagan and every president has wanted to get ANWR.'"

"And after that, I said, 'Oh. Make sure that's in the bill,'" Trump stared blankly at those gathered as murmurs of laughter began to build.

"It was amazing how that had an impact. That had a very big impact on me, Paul," the president continued, referring to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.

"I really didn't care about it. And then when I heard that everybody wanted it — for 40 years they've been trying to get it approved — I said, 'Make sure you don't lose ANWR.'"

The Republican tax bill requires the Department of the Interior to "approve two lease sales" allowing for drilling in the disputed 1.5 million acre 1002 area coastal plain. Each of the leases is described by the Huffington Post as "covering no less than 400,000 acres."

Despite President Trump's assertions with regard to a conversation with a friend being a defining moment in the addition of ANWR oil drilling to the December 2017 tax legislation, Republican U.S. Senator from Alaska Dan Sullivan has stated that he briefed Trump on ANWR in 2017 and was "surprised at Trump’s knowledge about the state."

What is ANWR?

Senator Sullivan: ANWR developed for 'over a year'

Speaking with Neil Cavuto with Fox News, Senator Sullivan described working with a group of Republicans, including Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for "over a year."

The ANWR region "is home to polar bears, moose and caribou, and it has been the subject of a decades-long battle between energy companies and conservationists."

One estimate has the northern coastal plain holding 10.4 billion barrels of oil. However, bipartisan groups contend that its extraction "could spoil the landscape and harm the species that call it home."

The Alaska Wilderness League compares ANWR to other places of national significance like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon and concludes that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge helps define "what it means to be American."

The refuge is home to two caribou herds — the Central Arctic and the Porcupine — and all three species of North American bears — black, grizzly, and polar. ANWR is also, sometimes temporarily, home to 200 species of birds. The contentious coastal plain is described as "especially important for shorebirds and waterfowl that nest on or otherwise utilize the area during the summer."

Scientific American questioned whether or not any companies will actually enter the leases. Kara Moriarty, with the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, believes that opening ANWR to oil drilling will "unlock job benefits for Alaskans and invigorate the oil and gas industry, an anchor of the state's economy."

However, Moriarty concedes, "we won't know if companies are interested until the government goes through the process to hold a lease sale."

The New York Times reports that it will be "years" before the first lease is sold.

Republicans celebrate Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil drilling victory

© 2018 Stephen Sinclair


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