A Pacific Loon floats along in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Seismic testing that was expected to begin last year in ANWR has been called off until at least December 2019. (Malkolm Boothroyd/malkolmboothroyd.com)

Yukoners claim victory after seismic testing in ANWR is delayed

“The complex issues that seismic testing raised couldn’t be addressed in the time frame required (by the BLM)”

Seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been called off until at least December.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) received a proposal last year by SAExploration, which had hoped to have testing underway by December 2018. In order to make that happen, there were a number of environmental and bureaucratic hoops the company had to pass through.

The delay was caused by a “combination of factors,” not the least of which is the partial government shutdown, which has crippled the U.S., Malkolm Boothroyd, campaign coordinator with the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), said.

“The complex issues that seismic testing raised couldn’t be addressed in the time frame required (by the BLM),” he said.

“This is a victory for everyone who has spoken against (these) exploration plans,” he said, adding that the delay indicates, for him, that oil and gas exploration in ANWR is still “a big if.”

The BLM did not return a request for comment by press time.

The testing – which involves driving huge “thumper trucks” over large swaths of land, smashing the earth with 64,000 pounds of force in order to map oil deposits beneath the surface – can only be done during the winter. The testing itself raises environmental concerns, especially for wildlife, like polar bears, which den in the area, said Boothroyd.

This turn of events does not mean testing has been outright cancelled, but it does mean that it has been significantly delayed.

Companies considering seeking a lease – the Trump administration has mandated there must be two lease sales by 2024 – will have to do so without the economically valuable data that testing would have afforded them, effectively “weakening the salability” of those leases said Dana Tizya-Tramm, chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) in Old Crow.

“We welcome this great news as symbolic of the break down and federal and state systems … and a signal of how effective our international efforts have been,” said Tizya-Tramm.

“By setting up internal mechanics which are now diametrically opposed to each other (within the BLM) … they have turned every level of this into a scrimmage…. The layers of complexities have finally entangled themselves,” he said.

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, was in Washington D.C. working on the issue of ANWR when the News spoke to her. She said the delay had “given her hope.”

“Since I’ve been travelling down here, I see a lot of people who genuinely care (about ANWR),” she said. “And then you have people who are just like, you know, ‘this is just a job.’”

She called the American government’s efforts to get leases out “fast and sloppy.”

The Gwich’in people, along with the conservationist allies, plan to “step up (their) efforts in Washington,” said Tizya-Tramm, and continue their campaign of political pressure and public education.

“We are very involved with media, with the online community… I’m telling you, it’s very powerful,” he said, adding that it is the Gwich’in youth who, under the wisdom of their elders, are “are stepping up” to the cause.

The announcement that testing would be delayed came just days before House Representatives Jared Huffman and Brian Fitzpatrick introduced a bill to restore protections against drilling in ANWR on Feb. 11. Tizya-Tramm said he did not expect that bill to pass, but that what was important is keeping the issue alive in the public and political eye.

“What is unfolding here is a great education, a university course in life the world has never seen before,” he said.

“No matter what comes out of these issue…. We welcome the world to participate and to learn.”

With files from Julien Gignac

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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