Zinke dismisses balanced plan, instead promotes reckless drilling in Western Arctic

Today’s Secretarial Order prioritizes drilling in sensitive caribou calving grounds and migratory bird sanctuaries

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 31, 2017)—Earlier today, at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association Conference, the Secretary of Interior signed Secretarial Order (S.O.) 3352. The S.O. attempts to open over 11 million acres of fragile habitat to oil & gas drilling by reversing a 2013 plan that balanced energy development with the protection of five Special Areas in the Western Arctic: Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River, Utukok River Uplands, Peard Bay and Kasegaluk Lagoon.

The original Integrated Activity Plan attempted to provide balance in the 22.8 million-acre Western Arctic (also known as the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska). The plan allowed for drilling in over 11 million acres while protecting 11 million acres critical to fish, wildlife, recreation and Native Alaskan subsistence. The plan was supported by over 400,000 Americans including sportsmen, Alaska Native subsistence users represented by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, and villages, tribes and other organizations representing more than 90 villages in Alaska that called for protection of the wildlife and special places within the Western Arctic.

The order calls for revisiting a management plan that was finalized after a massive public process only several years ago. Upsetting this carefully crafted plan is irresponsible, and the fact that this administration is considering doing so shows that they are only interested in developing our special public lands, not conserving the full range of values on them that so many Americans hold dear,” stated Peter Van Tuyn, Managing Partner at Bessenyey & Tuyn, LLC in Anchorage, Alaska.

Today’s action by Zinke negates the years of public input by Alaskans particularly on the North Slope. The original plan for this region balanced resource and habitat protection with development—it’s a plan that works for Alaskans,” stated Michael Wald, former BLM Resource Advisory Council Member and Co-owner and Guide at Arctic Wild. “I’ve guided in the Western Arctic for over 15 years and my clients are awe inspired by the wild nature and abundant wildlife in the region. It truly is a world-class ecosystem. I am disheartened by Zinke’s desire to open up this entire region to oil and gas development without public input.

ConocoPhillips has been a major player in the development expansion in the Western Artic and in 2015, ConocoPhillips was required to pay 8 million dollars in mitigation fees for violating current protections. Since the change in administration the company has been more vocal in its desire to remove protections in the region. Earlier this year ConocoPhillips Alaska President Joe Marushack was open about his thoughts on the Western Arctic, telling company officials he had “hopes of working with the new administration in opening up some of that land, but that is still to come.”

Zinke showed his true colors by aligning himself with ConocoPhillips despite the harm to wildlife, Native Alaskans and sportsmen,” stated Danielle Murray, Senior Director at the Conservation Lands Foundation.“The Western Arctic is one of the last places that supports Native Alaskan culture and subsistence living.  Secretary Zinke’s reckless order places greater value on ConocoPhillips’ quarterly reports than it does on the Americans who live there.”

The Western Arctic is home to many wild and some endangered species including grizzlies, wolverines, wolves, musk-ox, polar bears, beluga whales and breeding ground for immense number of shorebirds and waterfowl. The region most under threat, Teshekpuk Lake, hosts 32,000 caribou for calving season during the summer months.

Posted by Dave Welz in Media Releases, Western Arctic
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