Trump Admin Pushes Final Drilling Plan for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to protections put in place 60 years ago, has remained a pristine oasis in the most remote section of Alaska. Now, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to end those protections and to lease the federal lands to oil and gas exploration, according to The New York Times.
The maneuver will allow oil and gas companies to exploit the vast reserves that sit under what environmentalists call "the last great wilderness," according to The Guardian.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is estimated to sit above billions of barrels of oil. However, the 19-million acre sanctuary is home to polar bears, various waterfowl, migrating caribou and Arctic foxes that make the area their year-round home. In all, the refuge is home to more than 270 species, including the world's remaining Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, 250 musk oxen and 300,000 snow geese, according to The Washington Post.
The Trump administration plans to open the perimeter to drilling, roughly 1.6 million acres in coastline, as The New York Times reported.
The Department of the Interior said it had completed all the requisite reviews and intended to start selling leases to the land soon. Speaking to reporters, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said, "I do believe there could be a lease sale by the end of the year," as The New York Times reported.
Bernhardt added that offering the leases, "marks a new chapter in American energy independence" and predicted it could "create thousands of new jobs," according to CNN.
He also said in his conference call with reporters that he was moving forward with a 2017 budget bill, passed by a Republican-led congress, that insisted that the Federal government open up oil and gas leasing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, according to The Washington Post.
The push to open up the wildlife refuge marks a significant energy policy for an administration that has been hostile to the urgency of the climate crisis and invested heavily in greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. According to research from the Centers for American Progress, the drilling would result in more than 4.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions, which is roughly 75 percent of the nation's annual carbon dioxide emissions, according to The Washington Post.
"This is our nation's last great wilderness," said Adam Kolton, the executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, as The Guardian reported. "Nowhere else in the five-nation circle polar north do you have such abundant and diverse wildlife."
The migrating porcupine caribou is important to the culture of the indigenous Gwich'in people, many of whom reside alongside the caribou's migrating pattern.
"This area they just opened is their calving grounds," said Bernadette Demienti, executive director of the Gwich'in steering committee, as The Guardian reported. "This is a place that is so sacred to the Gwich'in that we don't go there. Our creation story tells us that we made a vow with the caribou that we would take care of each other. They have taken care of us, and now it is our turn to take care of them."
Demienti added that the caribou have already started to change their migration pattern as global warming afflicts the Arctic at a rapid pace, changing the landscape and the vegetation that the ruminants rely on.
Environmentalists like Kolton intend to fight the leases in federal court, where a protracted legal battle is expected to play out.
"We will continue to fight this at every turn," said Kolton in a statement, as The New York Times reported. "Any oil company that would seek to drill in the Arctic Refuge will face enormous reputational, legal and financial risks."
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Hundreds of endangered sea turtles were stranded on beaches after suffering "cold stunning" in the waters off Cape Cod, Mass. Local rescuers and wildlife rehabilitators stabilized the turtles at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and National Marine Life Center and began treatment. Many of the sea turtles were transported by land or air to partner facilities around the Eastern Seaboard for longer-term care to make room for more incoming, cold-stunned animals.
Rehabilitators at The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys assess critically endangered, cold-stunned Kemp's ridley sea turtles flown in after rescue in New England. The Turtle Hospital<p>NEAQ and local rescuers begin seeing turtles every fall when water temperatures drop to that 50 degrees F threshold, and typically expect to find them into early January. After that, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/sea-turtle-cape-cod-weather-2621527394.html" target="_self">temperatures are so cold that any animals found are usually no longer alive</a>.</p><p>Merigo estimated that this year's cold season "looks very busy" and noted that local rescue efforts had already surpassed 400 turtles.</p><p>"It is a lot of animals. They're still coming in," she told EcoWatch as she surveyed 39 rescued turtles that day and 20 the day prior. "So far, this is a huge year."</p><p>At NEAQ, the turtles are gradually warmed up about five to 10 degrees F a day. More aggressive warming can cause serious damage and the turtle might not survive, Merigo said. Emergency treatments also include providing replacement fluids, balancing electrolytes and addressing pneumonia. Assessments take place for other serious problems too, such as shell or limb fractures, frostbite, emaciation and eye damage.<span></span></p><p>As local aquariums don't have the capacity to care for all the injured turtles, a group of private pilots called <a href="https://www.turtlesflytoo.org/" target="_blank">"Turtles Fly Too"</a> donated planes, fuel and time to transport some to various partner facilities around the country. Other turtles were driven to closer care facilities.</p><p>"We have a huge network of really great partners working with us, so if we can spread out the care, we can give better care to all the animals," Merigo said.</p><p>The 40 Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovering in The Turtle Hospital will continue to be treated and rehabilitated anywhere from 30 days to a year, depending on the severity of injuries, Zirkelbach said.</p><p>The turtle expert noted that while she's treated cold-stunned turtles from the north before, the newest arrivals were the most cold-stunned Kemp's ridleys ever received at one time.</p>
After rescue, cold-stunned sea turtles received immediate emergency care and assessments at the New England Aquarium. Caitlin Cunningham / New England Aquarium<p>In the past decade, the Gulf of Maine, which spans from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, has warmed 99 percent faster than the rest of the ocean, Zirkelbach said. The warm water encourages turtles that migrate north along the Gulf Stream in warmer months to stay in the bay longer.</p><p>"Turtles that fail to migrate south get stuck in the unique horseshoe-shaped topography of the Cape Cod peninsula, and when temperatures drop, the bay becomes a death trap," she added.</p><p>Before ocean temperatures warmed, the waters of Maine were too cold for many of these sea turtles, Merigo echoed. Now, with warming sea surface temperatures, Maine can reach the high 70s to low 80s, which is "perfect turtle temperature," she said. The potential for more turtles getting trapped in the bay and then cold-stunned is nerve-racking for Merigo.</p><p>In addition to shifting habitats as waters warm, warming global temperatures also disrupt natural gender balance in sea turtles, Merigo warned. Gender is determined by the temperature of eggs in nests, and as the planet warms, it will result in all females at some point, she said.</p><p>"The turtles we work with are all endangered and threatened," Merigo said. "For sea turtles in general, the future is a little grim. Climate change is real; it does impact them."</p>
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Conservation campaigners on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of taking a "wrecking ball" to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the White House announced plans to move ahead with the sale of drilling leases in the 19 million-acre coastal preserve, despite widespread, bipartisan opposition to oil and gas extraction there.
The Sheenjek River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Alexis Bonogofsky / USFWS
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