Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. The Bureau of Land Management released a draft Environmental Impact Statement on Dec. 20 concerning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There are four options for protecting the Porcupine caribou herd in it. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)

Some Porcupine caribou calving grounds could be off limits to drilling in ANWR

Four options for protecting the herd are in the draft Environmental Impact Statement, released today

Some calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) could be exempt from drilling activity, said Joe Balash, assistant secretary for land and minerals for the American Department of the Interior.

The news came out during a Washington, D.C. press conference on Dec. 19 ahead of the release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which lays out possible options.

In December 2017, ANWR’s coastal plains were opened up to the possibility of oil and gas leases because of a provision submitted in the American Tax Act.

There are four options included in the draft, released almost a year to the day the tax bill became law, that offer some degree of protection to the herd.

“Whether it’s timing limitations on surface activity, no surface occupancy in the area, or, in a couple of cases, the acreage itself in that primary calving habitat is not available for using at all,” Balash said.

These ideas were done in collaboration with Inupiat and Gwich’in people, Indigenous groups in Alaska.

“They were instrumental in helping us develop these alternative scenarios,” Balash said, adding that federal, state and local governments submitted input, along with the private sector.

The potential provisions were drawn up to ensure the herd “remains abundant and sustainable,” he said.

The nearly 400-page draft was released this morning and can be found here.

The draft EIS will undergo a 45-day public hearing period.

The final document will likely be released in early summer, Balash said, adding that there’s expected to be a lease sale in 2019.

Changes to the Tax Act mean that one lease must be pushed through in four years.

The legislation stipulates that no fewer than two lease sales, each to include at least 400,000 acres with the highest potential of hydrocarbons, must occur by 2024.

The News recently reported that one company is interested in exploring for oil in the coastal plains. Its proposal is separate from the draft EIS.

The Bureau of Land Management has developed an environmental assessment process that the seismic program will be routed through, Balash said.

“I understand that is very close to being ready. Time is very tight, given the calendar, but it’s still in play,” he said.

More to come

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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