ANCHORAGE, AK — On Wednesday, September 6th at 1:30pm, Audubon Alaska will hand deliver over 15,000 public comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office located in the downtown federal building in response to the BLM’s Call for Nominations and Comments for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska Oil and Gas Lease Sale (82 Federal Register 36827, August 7, 2017). Audubon will be joined by other conservation organizations to collectively deliver tens of thousands of comments from Alaskans, Americans, and Alaska Native tribes.
Audubon Alaska is hand delivering these comment letters because the Federal Register notice did not provide the public with a digital option, such as an email address to submit comments to. “By requiring either snail mail or hand delivery, the BLM made it pretty hard for the average citizen to participate,” said Audubon Alaska Policy Director, Susan Culliney. “But thousands of people rose to the challenge on the profoundly important issue of possibly opening unavailable areas in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA), such as the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area.”
The Teshekpuk Lake Special Area is one of five areas in the NPRA that are designated as “unavailable for leasing” under the NPRA’s current land management plan. In an unprecedented move, the BLM included these unavailable areas in this year’s call for lease sale nominations. The BLM’s stated reason for requesting lease nominations in these areas is simply to gather information, not to actually offer those areas during the lease sale in December.
“Teshekpuk Lake and its surrounding wetland complex really leaps off the map as one of the most significant bird areas in the NPRA, on Alaska’s coastal plain, and in the entire circumpolar Arctic” said Culliney. “It concerns us that the BLM would use an obscure process that most people have never heard of to gather information on a topic of such magnitude, with no clear indication of how the agency intends to use the gathered information.”
This use of the “call for nominations” process to solicit information on these unavailable areas strongly suggests that the Department of the Interior and the BLM under the Trump administration intend to lift existing protections and pave the way for the oil industry to develop ecologically sensitive areas in the NPRA. That doesn’t mean that energy production can’t already take place in the NPRA. Under the current land management plan, Greater Mooses Tooth (GMT) 1 is under construction and GMT2 is undergoing permitting alongside the recently discovered Willow project. These energy projects are underway, even while the most ecologically sensitive areas in the NPRA remain protected by the current plan.
Since 1977, Audubon Alaska's mission is to conserve the spectacular natural ecosystems of the state, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. Audubon Alaska uses science to identify conservation priorities and support conservation actions and policies, with an emphasis on public lands and waters. Audubon Alaska is a state office of the National Audubon Society. www.AudubonAlaska.org
Now in its second century, the National Audubon Society is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Our national network of community-based nature centers and chapters, scientific and educational programs, and advocacy on behalf of areas sustaining important bird populations, engage millions of people of all ages and backgrounds in conservation.