The Trump administration will begin the environmental review process for oil and gas drilling on a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a region in northern Alaska rich in crude but prized by conservationists.
In a notice from the US Department of the Interior seen by Reuters, which the agency will post on 20 April, it says it will hold meetings in five Alaskan towns where the public can speak about drilling in the refuge. It is the first step in the review process, which will consider proposed seismic testing and exploration plans.
The tax bill passed by the Republican-led Congress late last year allowed the Interior Department to hold two lease sales in part of the 1.5-million-acre area. In 1980, when Congress created the refuge, it designated the “1002 area” as a part on the refuge’s coastal plain where drilling could occur in the future. The first lease sale could occur next year if there are no delays.
Alaskan lawmakers have been fighting for decades to open the refuge. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said in a joint statement with Alaska’s other lawmakers that the drilling would “help ensure the energy and economic security of our nation.”
Conservationists have vowed to fight the opening of the reserve in court. They are concerned that drilling would harm sensitive populations of migrating birds as well as caribou herds on which Gwich’in native people depend.
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