The Arctic Isn't Yours To Lease
Written in part with direct statements taken from the Bureau of Land Management’s Environmental Impact Statement
Dear President Donald Trump,
I am writing you concerning the recent decisions your administration made involving the expedited move to lease out land in the areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the National Petroleum Reserve, and the waters of the Beaufort Sea to big oil and gas corporations. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower federally protected this land more than 50 years ago. Since then, there has been dispute between many federal offices and companies attempting to take control of the land to either protect it or unearth the oil which rests beneath it.
It may seem like the right decision to lease out this unused and open land in order for our country to receive more economic power. However, for billions who inhabit the planet at this very moment, and for billions who will in the future, the repercussions are far beyond a business deal and the fulfillment of political promises. For many who inhabit this land, it is a matter of life and death. It is a matter of their very being. It is the destruction of the land the Caribou use for calving. It is many wolves, bears, foxes and weasels hunting grounds being disrupted. It is millions of tired birds who have been migrating here for centuries whose feeding and breeding grounds are being destroyed. It is the Beaufort Sea becoming unsettled by the creation of anthropogenic noise in the serene waters inhabited by many whale, seal and porpoise species. It is the Gwich’in people’s land and lives being meddled with in search of profit.
This land and it’s oil belong to the Earth and are not yours to lease to corporate giants of the oil and gas industry.
This land belongs to the hundreds of thousands of caribou in the Porcupine Caribou Herd (PCH) and the Central Arctic Herd. It is vital to their existence to be used as calving grounds and has been for many years far before we were capable of destroying and using it for our own benefit. The PCH begins their annual journey in April setting their sights on an area nearly the size of Wyoming within the refuge where their calves are born in the summertime. The EIS lists the potential effects that developing in the Arctic could have on terrestrial mammals, the most severe of which include injury or mortality of large and small mammals due to vehicle strikes on gravel roads, displacement from ice roads and ice pads due to noise and activity, displacement of caribou from infrastructure during calving, and habitat loss due to gravel mining. These effects are adverse and predominantly long term.
This land belongs to the Gwich’in people of Alaska. The PCH are a vital form of subsistence for the Gwich’in and critical to their way of life. They strongly oppose your decision to lease their land. According to the EIS, oil development will have potential impacts on subsistence users, both from impacts on subsistence species and from direct disturbance of hunts, displacement of resources from traditional harvest areas, and hunter avoidance of industrialized areas. For the people who inhabit this land, this decision is a matter of life or death.
This land belongs to the carnivores––bears, wolves, weasels, foxes and wolverines––who have been using this land as hunting grounds for thousands of years with little to no human intervention. These carnivores are attracted to human areas with food and rotting waste. This can cause habituation and food-conditioning, thus increasing the risk of injury or mortality to humans or the carnivores themselves. Red foxes, increasing in number due to human food sources, could result in a decline in arctic fox densities. Grizzly bears, increasing in presence, could result in higher predation on prey species, including caribou and moose calves. Grizzly bears in dens that are not found by preconstruction denning surveys may be disturbed by construction. Humans may haze bears and foxes attracted to infrastructure or, in extremely rare situations, may kill them in defense of life or property. Terrestrial mammals may be affected by seismic exploration eliminating below-snow habitat or limiting movements for small mammals, reducing forage availability during winter through compaction of snow and underlying vegetation, and disturbing muskoxen, wolves, wolverines, and denning grizzly bears. Occupied dens of grizzly bears detected during den surveys would be avoided by at least a half-mile, although complete detection of dens is unlikely.
This land belongs to the millions of birds who migrate to this area annually. There are over 200 species of birds that have been recorded in the ANWR, 69 of which would be at risk if this development is allowed. Two of these species are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act: the Steller’s Eider and the Spectacled Eider. Migratory birds can potentially be affected by habitat loss and alteration, disturbance and displacement, injury and mortality, and attraction of predators and scavengers to human activity or facilities, with subsequent changes in predator abundance. The American Bird Conservancy recognizes the ARCP and it’s adjacent marine waters as important bird areas because it supports a large number of birds during the important pre-breeding, nesting, rearing, and migration staging periods. Habitat loss and human-caused disturbance and displacement would occur to these birds from road and facility construction. Millions of lives are put in harm's way by our intervention into the ANWR.
This land belongs to the bowhead whales who transit past the ANWR during spring and fall migration, traveling along the shelf break and coming close to shore to feed. Whales avoid areas where the noise from exploratory drilling and marine seismic exploration exceeds 117 to 135 dB when migrating. The act of gravel blasting can be up to 424 dB. The bowhead’s calls are increased in direct relation to the activities of oil exploration and the anthropogenic noise it creates. This likely means they couldn’t understand their surrounding environment through echolocation and sent out more calls to get a better sense of what was around them. The bowhead whales are not alone in the threats they face from the oil industry.
This land belongs to the bearded seal, the pacific walrus, the harbor porpoise and many other marine mammals found in these Arctic waters. Seismic blasting effects facing these animals are temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, beach strandings, and even death. Seismic blasts can be like a bomb repeatedly going off in their home every 10 seconds.
Exploration, seismic blasting, on and offshore drilling, and transferring of oil and waste products will likely lead to oil spills. I will remind you of the BP oil spill in 2010, where the repercussions of this incident equated to 205.8 million gallons of oil and 225,000 tons of methane being released into our natural ecosystems. The loss of 82,000 birds, 6,165 sea turtles, up to 25,900 other marine mammals, and the lives of 11 human beings, according to the Center for Biological Diversity Report. The animal death toll is still rising. More than 320 known spills involving offshore drilling have occurred in the Gulf since 1964. There is certainly a potential of this happening in the Beaumont Sea, which would cause irreparable damage to marine life.
The Dakota Access Pipeline, which you stated would “serve the national interest,” has spilled over 380,000 gallons of oil in 2019 and 200,000 gallons in 2017. Oil spills were the exact concern and reason of protest from the Standing Rock Sioux people, who were shot with rubber bullets, sprayed with pepper spray, tear gas, and a water cannon. They protested for the Standing Rock Reservation, knowing when you drill you spill. Due to white landowners complaining about the pipeline entering their land, the pipeline’s trajectory was changed placing it directly under the Missouri River and Lake Oahe. Lake Oahe is 1.5 miles north of the reservation. The tribe condemned the pipeline because it cuts through sacred land and threatens their environmental and economic well-being by putting their only source for drinking water in jeopardy. You did not listen to the protest of the Sioux people. You listened to corporate powers of the oil industry.
The news pointed out that the move to develop oil in Alaska isn’t coming from economic necessity, but rather the fulfillment of your political promises to the oil industry. The land in the National Petroleum Reserve being leased at the abnormally low price average of $11 an acre is the cause of this claim. These low prices drew outcry from many environmentalists as oil companies leased up as much of the land as they could. Teshekpuk Lake is the main area being leased, which is the nesting ground for many migratory birds and the calving grounds for the Teshekpuk Caribou Herd.
This lake is one of the hotspots for the animals who live there and those who visit throughout the year. Teshekpuk lake and the surrounding land received a three year review from the Obama administration who protected the area from drilling through a buffer zone. Ryan Zinke, your previous secretary of state, disregarded and repealed this decision, which is why this land has become available to be leased out to these companies. Zinke proposed budget cuts for 2019 to the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the U.S. Geological Survey, and specifically he proposed cutting the Water Conservation Fund from $425 million in 2018 to a mere $8 million in 2019. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife are the ones who manage and protect the ANWR. It seems very intentional that he was pushing to cut their budget while simultaneously removing protections of the land. He resigned from office in 2019 after causing mass destruction to the conservation of our environment.
A study of the economic impact of drilling in the ANWR by the Center for American Progress shows the costs of exploration in this land will likely be very high and spike upwards given that the area is so remote as well as the absence of existing infrastructure. They have speculated that breaking even in the ANWR would require oil companies to sell whatever oil they discover at $78 per barrel, which is quite a bit more than the current average of $68 per barrel. This report also states your administration’s claims that this project will result in lower prices and reduced foreign dependence on oil, but because domestic oil price is determined in a world market, the oil present in the ANWR out of the total worldwide oil reserves is unlikely to have a substantial effect on oil prices in the U.S. Another study from the same organization points out that drilling in the Arctic is likely to yield no more than $37.5 million in revenue for the U.S. Treasury over the next 10 years. This is far short of the $1 billion to $1.8 billion that drilling proponents claim could be raised. The total economic cost for BP to clean it’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill was nearly $65 billion, and if it happens in the Arctic, it could be equally as much. Any profits from drilling would likely be washed away along with the wellbeing of wildlife.
The Center for American Progress’s study points to the environmental cost of this project, comparing the potential damage to wildlife in the event of a large oil spill to the damage occurred by the Exxon Valdez spill that cost the lives of between 100,000 and 250,000 sea birds along with otters, seals, eagles, orcas and fish in Alaska. Over two decades after the spill, it was recorded that sea otter populations lacked any noticeable recovery. The repercussions of such situations have long term impacts on the well being of our oceans, our planet and the people whose survival depends on these marine habitats.
You did not listen to the Sioux people, you did not listen to conservationists, and you did not listen to scientists. I beg of you to listen now. Listen to the concerns of the Gwich’in people. Listen to the upcoming generation who will have to deal with the repercussions of your decision long after you are gone. Listen to President Eisenhower’s decision made many years ago and all who have stood by him over these years.
There is no need to begin new oil developments. We are already dependent upon our own oil. We can continue with what we have already established in this country. Globally, it is quite clear that there is no place for the burning of fossil fuels and coal going forward. I would encourage you to redirect the money and workforce power dedicated to the Alaskan oil development and use it to invest in the renewable energy sector. This would bring a much higher economic output for future generations, of which I am a part.
You will save millions of lives if you decide to reverse and undo the decisions and efforts to lease out the land in the Arctic. You have a choice for none of this imminent harm to occur. I urge you to please not lease anymore of the land of the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge, the National Petroleum Reserve, and the waters of the Beaufort Sea for offshore drilling. I hope you make the right decision, President Trump.
A concerned citizen, Austin Graham.