Following Congress’s move to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas production, a long-sought goal of the Republican Party, fossil fuel companies are moving forward with their plans to develop the wilderness and hope to survey the region by winter. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, two Alaska Native companies, as well as one oil company have applied for a permit to begin seismic surveying on the refuge’s coastal plain. However, despite promises that the process would be as environmentally sensitive as possible, documents obtained by the Washington Post indicate that the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the initial plan as “not adequate,” noting its “lack of applicable details for proper agency review.”
The area the companies hope to explore for oil is also the location of the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd, from which the local Gwich’in First Nation community finds food and cultural significance. In fact, the prospective area where two teams of 150 people are proposed to survey isn’t even visited by the Gwich’in people out of respect for its importance. The speed with which the companies have pushed to begin oil drilling has concerned the locals. “Why can’t they just wait to have more information?” Gwich’in Steering Committee executive director Bernadette Dementieff told Earther. “The oil isn’t going anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with waiting. It makes no sense to rush.” Perhaps the oil companies are concerned that the U.S. may, under a different Congress, return to its long-held status quo of banning oil drilling in the refuge.
Although the nearby Native town of Kaktovik supported oil and gas drilling in 2005, more recently, the mayor sent a letter to Congress to oppose opening the land to industry. The process has moved forward so quickly since the bill opening the refuge to oil drilling was signed into law that Dementieff was not even aware of the drilling application until she was contacted by Earther. “That is completely insane and disrespectful,” she said. Dementieff believes that Native communities in Alaska will rally together to stop the drilling from ever occurring. “We’ll go to every courtroom. We’ll go to every community meeting. We’re not giving up. We’re not going to allow them to destroy the calving grounds.”