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Trump Moves to Open 1.5 Million Acres of Alaskan Refuge for Oil Drilling By End of the Year

Energy
An image of the trans-alaskan oil pipeline that carries oil from the northern part of Alaska all the way to valdez. This shot is right near the arctic national wildlife refuge. kyletperry / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The Trump administration has initialized the final steps to open up nearly 1.6 million acres of the protected Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to allow oil and gas drilling.


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued its final Environmental Impact Statement for the refuge and found that it was acceptable to lease 1.56 million acres on the Alaskan coastal plains. The lease sales will go forward by the end of the year, as The Hill reported.

Now that the Environmental Impact Statement has been written, BLM is constrained by a mandatory 30-day waiting period before it can accept bids from fossil fuel companies.

"After rigorous review, robust public comment, and a consideration of a range of alternatives, today's announcement is a big step to carry out the clear mandate we received from Congress to develop and implement a leasing program for the Coastal Plain, a program the people of Alaska have been seeking for over 40 years," said Interior Sec. David Bernhardt in a statement, as The Hill reported.

The Democratic controlled house passed a bill Thursday to stop the mandate, but it has little chance of making it through the Senate.

"There are some places too wild, too important, too unique to be spoiled by oil-and-gas development," said Rep. Jared Huffman, the California Democrat who wrote the bill, as the Wall Street Journal reported. "The Arctic Refuge's Coastal Plain is one of those special places."

Environmentalists were quick to pounce on the Interior Department announcement since the refuge is home to polar bear dens and it is where caribou visit for calving. Drilling operations will almost certainly displace indigenous populations, which rely on the wildlife for their sustenance through hunting and fishing, according to the Guardian.

"This sham 'review' unlawfully opens the entire coastal plain to leasing and fails to minimize damage to this unique environment," said Garett Rose, staff attorney for the Alaska Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in a statement, according to The Hill. "It violates what is sacred ground to, and a source of subsistence for, the Gwich'in people."

The Alaska Wilderness League's Executive Director Adam Kolton said to the Guardian "to no one's surprise, the administration chose the most aggressive leasing alternative, not even pretending that this is about restraint or meaningful protection."

"With an eye on developing the entirety of the fragile coastal plain, the administration has been riding roughshod over science, silencing dissent and shutting out entire Indigenous communities," said Kolton.

The NRDC plans to challenge the Environmental Impact Statement in court.

"We will indeed sue," the NRDC's Anne Hawke said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Environmental Impact Statement does seem, at times, divorced from reality, as it suggests that global heating is cyclical rather than a byproduct of human activity, which is the scientific consensus.

"Much attention in recent decades has focused on the potential climate change effects of GHGs [greenhouse gasses], especially carbon dioxide (CO2), which has been increasing in concentration in the global atmosphere since the end of the last ice age," the document reads, as the Guardian reported.

The BLM estimated that the oil and gas leases in the Alaskan refuge would emit the greenhouse gas equivalent of one million new cars on the road. However, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed a draft statement, it said that BLM drastically underestimated the environmental impact, as Scientific American reported.

"The majority of Americans want this sacred area protected," said Rose, as The Hill reported. "And within hours of Congress taking action, the Trump administration is moving with haste to destroy it."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.