Trump Administration's Arctic Drilling Plans a 'Blatant Disregard for Science' That Threatens Climate and Wildlife, Warn Experts

The Trump administration is continuing to push ahead with plans to expand land available for drilling in the Arctic Circle with the publication of an environmental impact statement (EIS) last month⁠—despite serious concerns levied against it by various groups regarding its impact on the climate and local ecosystems.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has set its sights on "a web of development" across the Coastal Plain—"the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge," says Garett Rose, a staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"Here's what that looks like: drill pads, roads, pipelines, barging stations, gravel mines, and processing facilities. This web of industrial infrastructure will damage the sensitive Arctic ecosystem irreversibly," he told Newsweek.

The agency ignored public comment, adds Lauren Gleason, a spokesperson from the World Wildlife Fund U.S.—comment that stressed the climate-related impacts on the ecosystems and wildlife in the Refuge. Instead, they "favored Alternative B, the most permissive, least restrictive alternative in the document, opening the entire Coastal Plain."

In fact, the document, which includes responses from the BLM to address these concerns, goes as far as to say "there is not a climate crisis."

As E&E News reported on Monday, the language used in document appears to imply there is little to no threat that the proposed drilling will contribute to the climate crisis. The BLM responds to five criticisms with the statement: "The BLM does not agree that the proposed development is inconsistent with maintaining a livable planet (i.e., there is not a climate crisis)."

Elsewhere in the report, the agency downplays the contribution any proposed drilling may have on climate change, arguing the increases would be "small in a global context." "[T]he proposed action, by itself, would not measurably affect climate change adaptation or mitigation challenges in the Arctic or globally," the document states.

Arctic Wildlife Refuge
The document is the final step to be taken before drilling leases can be sold. Critics of the proposed drilling say it could damage the area’s status as a National Wildlife Refuge and carbon sink. Getty

Jayni Foley Hein, the Natural Resources for the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law, described the comments as "deceptive hot air" and "a blatant disregard for science, and opens the door to legal challenges."

"The analysis here is a disservice to the American people, who deserve to understand the full environmental and economic implications of drilling in ANWR for an estimated 70 years," Hein told Newsweek.

"BLM claims that the incremental amount of oil and gas to burned is 'small in a global context,' but BLM understates expected emissions, and climate change is a 'death by a thousand cuts' problem."

Hein says this move from the Trump White House Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a 180-degree turn on previous administrations, who have sought to protect the Refuge since its inception in 1960. Indeed, one of the final policies of the Obama administration was to introduce a sweeping ban on offshore drilling in nearby areas. The drilling proposed, however, risks the area's status as a National Wildlife Refuge and carbon sink, and its ability to provide a secure space for wildlife breeding for endangered species like the polar bear.

Johanna Hamburger, wildlife attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute, echoes these sentiments, telling Newsweek that the statement only partially discloses the amount of carbon dioxide pollution expected to be generated by the foreseeable oil and gas leasing and development.

"It fails to take the essential next step of disclosing the impacts that such pollution, including methane pollution, would have on climate change," she said.

Gleason also emphasizes the direct effects the drilling will have on local wildlife, saying it will hurt species already facing the brunt of warming temperatures, shifting food sources, and diminishing habitat. Species affected would include polar bears, who risk disturbance from industrial noise, and caribou, whose ancient migration routes cut right across the refuge.

"As climate change already imperils many Arctic species, minimizing other threats to them, and ensuring they have freedom to roam, is critical," she told Newsweek.

The BLM's statement is the final step that has to be taken before drilling leases can be purchased⁠, with officials saying they are hoping to start selling later this year—despite the strong opposition.

"There is no reason or need to drill in the Arctic—it is literally the worst place in the world to try to create a secure energy future for America," said Rose.

"The Trump administration's foolish pursuit of extreme oil that won't come to market for decades legitimizes climate-wrecking policies around the world, with untold consequences for human health, community stability, and the entire natural world."

The article has been updated to amend Johanna Hamburger's comments and include additional quotes from Lauren Gleason and Garrett Rose.