Oil Exploration in Arctic Ocean Approved by Trump Administration as ANWR Drilling Bill Moves Forward
The fight against new Arctic drilling took a major setback on Tuesday. On the same day that the Senate Budget Committee passed a bill allowing oil and natural gas drilling in Alaska's pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Trump administration granted oil company Eni's request to explore for oil in nearby Alaska waters.
The Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued the permit to Eni yesterday, allowing the oil giant to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea as early as next month.
“Achieving American energy dominance moved one step closer today with the approval of Arctic exploration operations on the Outer Continental Shelf for the first time in more than two years," the department boasted.
In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that initiated the process of rolling back former President Obama's 2016 ban on any new off shore oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Ocean.
Exploratory drilling will take place on Spy Island, a man-made artificial island approximately three miles offshore of Oliktok Point. Eni, which has sat on its leases in the Beaufort Sea for more than a decade, says the new development could lead to the creation of 100-150 jobs in the region and new production of 20,000 barrels of oil per day.
"BSEE Alaska Region staff conducted a thorough and complete review of Eni's well design, testing procedures and safety protocol," said Mark Fesmire, BSEE Alaska Region director. "Exploration must be conducted safely, and responsibly in relation to the Arctic environment and we will continue to engage Eni as they move forward with drilling its exploratory well."
But environmental groups fiercely oppose oil and gas development in the area over risks of a potential spill and say that drilling in the Arctic will exacerbate global warming.
The Center of Biological Diversity said in a statement that the area is home to many marine mammals, including bowhead whales, polar bears and ringed seals and birds from all over the world, including spectacled eiders and longtailed ducks. They also noted that the Trump administration provided the public only 21 days to review and comment on the exploration plan and only 10 days to comment on scoping for an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Approving this Arctic drilling plan at the 11th hour makes a dangerous project even riskier," said Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the organization. “An oil spill here would do incredible damage, and it'd be impossible to clean up. The Trump administration clearly cares only about appeasing oil companies, no matter its legal obligations or the threats to polar bears or our planet."
The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups filed a lawsuit challenging Trump's April executive order. The lawsuit is pending in federal court in Alaska.
Meet Eni, the spill-prone oil company that Trump just unleashed on U.S. Arctic waters. It admitted 500 oil spills i… https://t.co/jMjxuNHyJ8— Ctr4BioDiv Ocean (@Ctr4BioDiv Ocean)1511911192.0
Meanwhile, the Republican-led push to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) moved forward on Tuesday. The bill, which is combined with Senate Republicans' tax reform overhaul, was approved by the Senate Budget Committee in a party-line vote of 12-11. The measure is now headed to the Senate floor.
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), could advance with only 51 votes in the Senate instead of the usual 60 as it complies under Congress' budget resolution instructions for 2018.
Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups have criticized the GOP for sneaking the "backdoor drilling provision" through the budget process.
"It's really not gotten the attention that it should," Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told POLITICO about the ANWR provision. "It's not just the budget discussion. It's about everything else that's going on, the flurry of all sorts of other news."
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, also issued the following statement: "A vote for the Senate tax reform bill is a vote supporting the destruction of America's iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Sen. Murkowski's toxic drilling provision forsakes the conservation values that helped shape our nation and threatens polar bears, muskoxen, caribou and hundreds of species of migratory birds from all fifty states. Congress must uphold America's conservation legacy by rejecting any bill that includes oil drilling in the Arctic refuge."
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.