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The sale of Arctic drilling leases attracts an unusual lessee. It may be the only one.

After a three-year push by the Trump administration to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling – an effort that resulted in a rush to sell leases before the White House changed hands – ultimately , the only lessee could be the State. of Alaska itself.

With a deadline Thursday to submit bids for 10-year leases on plots spanning more than one million acres of the refuge, there is no indication that oil companies are interested in purchasing the rights to drill under difficult conditions , to extract more expensive fossil fuels for a world that increasingly seeks to wean itself from them.

Amid the uncertainty, a state-owned economic development corporation voted last week to allow bids up to $ 20 million for some of the leases. “This is an extraordinary opportunity,” Frank Murkowski, a former Alaska political statesman, told the board of directors of the company, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, at a meeting before the vote.

There are legal questions surrounding the action, including whether the development authority qualifies as a bidder. And environmental organizations, some Alaskan Native groups and others are seeking an injunction in Federal District Court to outright suspend lease sales, arguing that they are part of a deeply flawed Department of Justice process. ‘Interior which, among other things, minimizes scientific findings on possible damage to the refuge.

But if the development authority continues, it sets up the possibility that when the sealed bids are opened on January 6, the state may find itself sole owner of the leases. That would give hope that at some point in the next decade interest in drilling in the refuge will pick up again and that he can sublet plots to someone else.

The result of the sale would also be a strange ending to the Trump administration’s attempt to allow drilling into the safe haven, which is believed to cover billions of barrels of oil, though this thinking is largely based on old data from several decades. President Trump has said opening the safe haven to oil companies is one of the most important efforts in his effort to expand domestic oil production.

About the size of South Carolina, the refuge is one of the last large tracts of virtually untouched land in the United States, home to stray caribou, polar bears and migrating waterfowl. Alaskan officials and many Republican lawmakers have long sought to allow drilling there, citing the jobs and income it would create. But the safe haven has been protected for decades, largely by Democrats in Congress.

That changed in 2017 when Republicans, who controlled both houses of Congress, passed a tax bill allowing the sale of leases of up to 1.5 million acres of the refuge along the coast. Following an environmental review, the Home Office this summer approved a sale, the plans of which were accelerated after Mr. Trump’s election defeat. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is opposed to drilling in the refuge.

This month, the Bureau of Land Management, the Home Office’s sales agency, withdrew around half a million acres from the tender, citing concerns about the disturbance of caribou calving grounds and disturbance of other wildlife. That leaves about one million acres available on 22 plots, with a minimum supply of $ 25 per acre.

Within days of the deadline, Lesli Ellis-Wouters, a spokesperson for the office in Alaska, declined to say whether any offers had been received. “This information is considered confidential until submissions are opened,” she said.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association, a trade group, has long said companies avoid rocking their plans.

Pavel Molchanov, energy analyst at financial services firm Raymond James, said the companies were very unlikely to bid, given the cost of oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic, the potential damage to their reputation in operating on land prized by environmentalists, the growing movement among big banks to refuse to fund drilling in the refuge, and the depressed state of the industry amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Drilling in the refuge is about the last thing the oil companies want to do now,” Molchanov said. “But even before Covid, the industry’s appetite for it would have been scarce.”

In an opinion piece that appeared in Anchorage Daily News ahead of the Economic Development Authority’s meeting, Mr. Murkowski, former Governor and United States Senator and father of one of the state’s current Senators, Lisa Murkowski , acknowledged widespread concerns that there would be no bidders. for leases. “After all of our efforts, hopes and aspirations, Alaska will look like the proverbial paper tiger,” he wrote.

Mr Murkowski said that by bidding the state would act as a safety net, and he argued that Alaska has expertise in leasing oil, although that expertise involves selling leases on land. owned by the state, not to purchase leases on federal land.

He also pointed out that with rental income split evenly between the federal and state governments, if his offers were successful, the state would get a one-time deal. “You’re going to get half of your money back,” he told the board. Only the state, he added, “can buy at 50% off”.

Mr. Murkowski was one of the few speakers to support the plan. Most commentators have said the shelter should be left alone and the state should spend its money elsewhere, such as on Covid relief.

Suzanne Bostrom, a lawyer at Trustees for Alaska, a nonprofit public interest law firm that represents groups trying to block sales, said the authority’s decision to allow the offers “smacked of real despair ”.

She said there were “very serious questions” as to whether the authority could “spend state resources without any control”.

“The legislature is supposed to make these kinds of decisions,” she said.

In the tax bill, the sales were presented as a way to raise $ 900 million over 10 years for the federal treasury to offset more than $ 1 trillion in tax cuts. But this figure has long been questioned by outside experts. Last year, a New York Times analysis suggested the actual amount would be around $ 45 million.

And with the sales looming, any potential financial windfall for the government looks even smaller, said Autumn Hanna, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan organization in Washington, DC.

“We remain firmly convinced that lease sales are going to be grossly insufficient for taxpayers,” said Hanna. “We don’t think there is any evidence of industry interest and that there could be a real tender.”

The group said its latest estimate showed the federal treasury could receive as little as $ 15 million from lease sales.

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Norwegian Supreme Court clears way for more Arctic drilling

Frode Pleym, the head of Greenpeace Norway, also said in a statement that it was “frightening and absurd” that the right to a clean environment cannot be used to stop harming Norway’s environment. “The majority in the Supreme Court has totally failed to show its independence from the state administration and ignore the fact that researchers say the climate can no longer tolerate oil,” Mr. Pleym.

The move was a reason for the Norwegian oil industry to celebrate, said Hans Petter Graver, professor of law at the University of Oslo.

The decision, he said, rejected “the possibility of using specific cases as an instrument to attack Norwegian climate policy”. The court ruled that “the effects of global warming are only relevant to the extent that they affect Norway,” he added, excluding the effects of oil exports from any consideration.

“This means that Norway can continue to build its wealth on oil and gas without being disrupted by the Norwegian courts,” he said. Mr Graver had previously predicted that a victory for environmental groups could force Norway to phase out activities like oil exploration, which is a cornerstone of its economy.

In total, between 2015 and May 2020, 36 rights-based lawsuits were brought against states for human rights violations related to climate change, according to the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

Jorn Oyrehagen Sunde, professor of public and international law at the University of Oslo, said that following the ruling, it would be difficult for groups to raise similar challenges as the Norwegian court had narrowed the scope of the constitutional rule protecting the environment and climate.

Environmental groups have no more options in the Norwegian legal system, Sunde said, adding that the obvious route would be to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, where young activists have already filed a similar complaint against 33 of the countries.

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Seismic work in arctic won’t hurt polar bears, government says

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday that a seismic survey scheduled for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska this winter would “have nothing more than a negligible impact” on the number of polar bears in the region.

The finding was contained in an agency proposal to allow up to three incidents in which bears could be harassed or inadvertently disturbed during investigative work, which would take place over several months and aimed at detecting signs of oil and gas reserves underground.

The agency said a few incidents of unintentional harassment, such as getting too close to a bear and causing it to run away or cutting off feeding, would not affect survival. He added that he did not expect bears to be physically injured or killed during the investigation.

The proposal is due for publication in the Federal Register on Tuesday, after which the public will have 30 days to comment. Approval after the comment period would remove a major hurdle to allow the investigation to begin early next year.

The project, which was proposed by an Alaskan Native village company, would involve heavy trucks and other equipment driving through snow-capped tundra into part of the refuge, the coastal plain along the Beaufort Sea.

Polar bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. With climate change reducing the extent of sea ice, their primary habitat, the southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation declined by about 40 percent from 2001 to 2010. It is currently estimated that there are about 900 animals in the subpopulation.

The loss of sea ice means more bears are coming to land for longer periods. Pregnant bears, in particular, often build winter dens in the snow of the coastal plain where they give birth to young and feed them during their first months of life.

Robert Dewey, vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, said spotting polar bears in their dens can be very difficult. “But that doesn’t stop developers from continuing to explore for oil and gas there,” he said, criticizing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal.

The Arctic Refuge, one of the last great tracts of virgin land in the United States, has long been protected from oil and gas development. But in 2017, the Trump administration and Republicans who controlled Congress removed protections from 1.5 million acres of the Coastal Plain.

Since then, the White House has moved forward with a plan to allow oil and gas drilling there. The polar bear’s proposal is another sign that these efforts have gained momentum in recent weeks after President Trump’s reelection defeat.

Last week, the Bureau of Land Management announced a plan to sell oil and gas leases on the Coastal Plain on Jan.6, two weeks before the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who opposes drilling in the refuge.

In addition, the office is preparing an environmental assessment of the planned investigation. A spokesperson for the office said the assessment should be available “relatively soon” and would be followed by a comment period before the office makes a final decision on whether or not to allow the investigation.

Assessing the potential effect on polar bears had been somewhat of a stumbling block in approving a seismic study at the refuge. A previous proposal, presented in 2018, was ultimately scrapped as an EA, and work to determine the impact on polar bears dragged on.

Under federal law to protect polar bears and other marine mammals, the Home Office, which includes the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service, can authorize the “accidental harassment” of an animal. small number of animals during activities in an area such as a refuge. A clearance usually involves lengthy discussions and negotiations between government scientists and those proposing the activity.

In its request, the indigenous village company that proposed the investigation, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, said it would take several measures to detect bears in their dens and avoid contact with them, including late reconnaissance flights. January, before the trucks start to operate. These flights would use infrared cameras to detect bear heat.

Investigation teams would then establish a one-mile buffer zone around each den to avoid disturbing the bears and possibly removing them from their den, which could threaten the survival of the cubs.

A study published this year questioned the effectiveness of airborne thermal cameras. He revealed that for more than a decade using them on the North Slope of Alaska, oil companies have located less than half of the known dens of maternal bears and their cubs.

The village corporation’s proposal originally provided for a single reconnaissance flight. But the Fish and Wildlife Service said the proposal now included three flights, all of which would take place before the trucks entered the refuge. On average, coastal plain dens are covered by less than 100 centimeters, or about 39 inches, of snow, the service said, and having three flights “increases the likelihood of detecting dens to less than 100. cm deep at 98%.

Environmental groups also opposed the proposed seismic survey because of the potential damage heavy trucks could cause to the delicate arctic tundra, even under the blanket of snow. Traces of the only other investigation conducted there, in the 1980s, are still visible today.

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Sale of Arctic Refuge’s oil and gas leases scheduled for early January

The Trump administration said Thursday it would sell oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in early January, further accelerating its latest effort to allow drilling there.

The Bureau of Land Management said the sale would take place on Jan. 6, following the publication of a “notice of sale” in the Federal Register next Monday. This notice requires a 30 day comment period before a sale can take place.

The announcement of a sale date came just 16 days after the bureau announced a “call for nominations,” which allowed oil companies and others to clarify which plots of land were attractive for drilling.

Normally, a call for applications allows 30 days or more for such responses, followed by weeks of analysis by the bureau to ultimately decide which leaflets will be offered. This would have pushed a sale days before or beyond the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. on January 20, who opposed drilling at the refuge.

The ad, which came from the office in Alaska, did not mention why the schedule has been sped up. But the Trump administration has made no secret of its willingness to sell the rights to drill in the refuge while it is still in power.

Environmental groups denounced the last-minute surge.

“This is a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give the fossil fuel industry one last document out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club , in a statement.

Once the sale is complete, the office must then review and approve the leases, a process that typically takes months. But holding the sale on January 6 potentially gives the office an opportunity to finalize the leases before the opening day. This would make it more difficult for the Biden administration to cancel them.

The Arctic Refuge is a vast expanse of virtually untouched wilderness, almost untouched by people, and home to caribou, polar bears and other migrating wildlife. Of the refuge’s 19 million acres, lease sales are said to be for up to 1.5 million acres of northeast Alaska’s coastal plain.

The refuge has long been protected by environmentalists and Congressional Democrats. But in 2017, with Republicans holding the White House and both houses of Congress, the plan to sell oil and gas leases was approved as part of tax law.

President Trump has said opening part of the safe haven to oil development is one of the most important efforts in his effort to expand domestic production of fossil fuels.

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Trump plan to sell arctic oil leases will face challenges

Even if in its final days, the Trump administration is successful in selling oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the leases may never be issued, legal and other experts said Tuesday.

The leases would face strong and possibly insurmountable headwinds from two directions: the incoming Biden administration and the courts, they said.

Under new leadership, several federal agencies could reject leases that, even if purchased at an auction a few days before the opening day, would go through a review, a process that typically takes several months. .

During the campaign, Mr. Biden vowed to oppose oil and gas development in the refuge, a vast expanse of virtually untouched land in northeast Alaska that’s home to polar bears, caribou and d ‘other wild animals.

“President-elect Biden has made it clear that it is important for him to protect the Arctic refuge from drilling,” said Brook Brisson, senior counsel at Trustees for Alaska, a public interest law firm in non-profit. “We are confident that this means his administration will use its executive authority to do just that.”

But if, for some reason, after these reviews, the new administration did not reject the leases, they could also be overturned in court. There are already four lawsuits against the Trump administration’s actions related to oil and gas development in the refuge, including one brought by Ms. Brisson’s group on behalf of Alaska’s native and environmental organizations.

“Whoever wins these leases will enter a minefield of litigation,” said Michael Gerrard, founder of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

Mr Gerrard said the Trump administration has lost several similar cases involving the leasing of oil and gas in Western states, largely due to its mismanagement of the required legal steps. “The haste with which he is trying to pass these leases could lead to even more mistakes that opponents’ lawyers will jump on,” he said.

With the publication of a “call for nominations” in the Federal Register on Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management officially launched the shelter’s hire-purchase program. The document seeks comments from oil companies and others on their interest in leasing specific portions of the refuge’s coastal plain, which covers 1.5 million acres along the Arctic Ocean.

The region is believed to have reserves containing billions of gallons of oil. For decades it has been legally protected from drilling, but it was opened up to potential development in 2017 by the administration and the Republican-led Congress.

The decision to launch the hire-purchase program has been hailed by oil industry groups and members of the Alaska Congressional delegation, who have long continued to drill in the refuge for jobs and income. that he could bring. The Home Office, which includes the Bureau of Land Management, said it had “taken an important step in meeting our obligations by determining where and under what conditions the oil and gas development program will take place.”

After the comment period, which ends Dec. 17, the office could quickly announce a sale that could take place 30 days later – or just days before Jan. 20, when Mr. Trump’s term ends.

It’s a very tight deadline, which would likely force the Bureau of Land Management to ignore the comments for the most part and offer rights to all of the coastal plain plots for sale. The rental plan’s environmental impact statement, which was approved by the Home Office in August, recommended that all leaflets be made available.

The auction would take place over a single day, using sealed auctions. The regulations require that successful bids be reviewed by the Bureau of Land Management to determine, among other things, the bidders’ abilities to undertake oil and gas exploration in the field. Winning bids would also be forwarded to the Department of Justice for consideration of possible antitrust issues.

“Usually after an auction, it takes two to three months to fulfill the leases,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Even preparing the documents to be signed can be time consuming, he said.

That timeline would push scrutiny into the early months of the Biden administration, he said. Even though the Department of Justice’s review found no antitrust issues, the Bureau of Land Management could reject the leases, he said.

But Mr. Lawrence said there was always the possibility that the Trump administration would flout the rules and accept the leases immediately after the auction.

“No one should underestimate the Trump administration’s desire to cut legal corners,” he said. “It would be unwise to predict that they won’t sign leases between the auction and the grand opening.”

“But that would be downright illegal,” he added, and justifies further legal action.

Numerous legal files have already been filed concerning the administration’s plans for the refuge. The four pending lawsuits were filed after the Home Office approved the final environmental impact statement in August, setting the stage for lease sales.

In addition to that filed by the Alaskan Trustees on behalf of Indigenous groups like the Gwich’in and Alaskan environmental organizations, others have been brought in by national environmental groups including the Audubon Society, the Resource Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity, and by state attorneys general.

The various groups claim that the Trump administration’s actions violate a number of laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Wildlife Sanctuary System Administration Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act , which governs the rules for issuing federal regulations and which prohibits the making of “arbitrary and capricious” rules.

The plaintiffs say the Home Office, the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to follow the law to protect the “iconic and sacred” Arctic refuge, as a lawsuit said. The action of the Bureau of Land Management, he said, “threatens the exceptional resources of the Coastal Plain and the sustenance, cultural and spiritual connection between the Gwich’in people and the Coastal Plain.”

“The most glaring legal loophole in this leasing program,” said Mr. Lawrence of the NRDC, “is that Congress has left in place all laws that protect public resources.

“These laws mean that the Bureau of Land Management must minimize the damage it does to the refuge. Instead, they went their way, deciding to lease almost every acre of the Coastal Plain.

Ann Navarro, a former environmental litigator with the law firm Bracewell LLP, said if courts in lease cases decide that the agencies involved are not complying with environmental laws, he could fire the lender. deal with the agency to reconsider the matter, with or without leaving the lease. The agency would have to start the process over.

“I would say this is not a common outcome of litigation, but it certainly can happen,” she said. Once President Biden’s administration begins, she added, they could “even take it upon themselves to reconsider” the leases.

Even if all lawsuits were to fail and the leases became valid, the Biden administration would still have the option of blocking all activity on the coastal plain, experts said.

A lease would give a business the right to explore and extract oil or gas from the land, but the business would still need permits for all activities, like driving trucks across the tundra to survey the land, build a gravel pad for an exploration well. or tap into a water source. And each permit application follows a process that allows an agency, federal or state, to impose requirements or deny the application.

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Trump administration, in belated push, sets out to sell oil rights in arctic refuge

In a last-minute attempt to achieve its long-sought goal of allowing oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Trump administration announced on Monday that it would begin the formal process of selling leases to companies. oil.

This sets up a potential lease sale just before the inauguration day Jan.20, leaving the new administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who opposed drilling at the shelter, to try to stop them afterwards. stroke.

“The Trump administration is attempting a ‘Hail Mary’ pass,” said Jenny Rowland-Shea, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal group in Washington. “They know what they put out there is rushed and legally questionable.”

The Federal Register on Monday released a “call for applications” from the Bureau of Land Management, to be officially released on Tuesday, regarding lease sales in approximately 1.5 million acres of the refuge along the Arctic Ocean coast. . A call for applications is essentially a request to oil companies to specify the plots of land they would be interested in exploring and possibly drilling for oil and gas.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said it welcomed the move. In a statement, the organization said the development of the shelter was “long overdue and will create well-paying jobs and provide a new source of income for the state – which is why a majority of Alaska support it.”

The call for nominations will allow 30 days for comments, after which the office, which is part of the Home Office, can issue a final sale notice which will take place as early as 30 days later. This means that the sales could take place a few days before the opening day.

Normally, the office would take the time to review the comments and determine which fliers to sell before issuing the final notice of sale, a process that can take several months. In this case, however, the office could decide to offer the entire area and issue the notice immediately.

There was no immediate response to emailed requests for comment from the Home Office or the Alaska Bureau of Land Management office.

Any sale would then be subject to review by agencies in the Biden administration, including the office and the Department of Justice, a process that could take a month or two. This could allow Biden’s White House to refuse to issue the leases, perhaps claiming that the science behind the plan to allow drilling at the refuge was flawed, as environmental groups have claimed.

At stake is the future of the refuge, one of the most remote and pristine regions of the United States and home to polar bears and migrating caribou, among other wildlife. In 2017, in a reversal of decades of protections, the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress opened up the refuge’s coastal plain to potential for oil and gas development.

The coastal plain is believed to overlap geological formations that could contain billions of barrels of oil, although this assessment is based on data collected in the 1980s. Only one exploration well has ever been drilled in the refuge and one. New York Times investigation found the results to be disappointing.

If sales continue, it’s unclear what interest drilling in the refuge will attract from oil companies. It would be at least a decade before oil was produced from there, and by then the drive to wean the world off fossil fuels might have reduced the need for it. Oil production in the Arctic is also difficult and expensive; companies may decide that it is not worth the money. They may also fear the potential impact on their reputation by drilling in such a pristine location.

In August, the Home Office announced that it was accepting a final environmental review of the hire-purchase plan and that it would start preparing to auction the acreage. At the time, Home Secretary David Bernhardt said he believed the sales could take place before the end of the year.

Environmentalists and other opponents, including a group representing an indigenous Alaskan tribe, the Gwich’in, who live near the shelter, have filed a lawsuit, saying the Home Office had failed not sufficiently taken into account the effects of oil and gas development on climate change and on wildlife.

These groups also criticized the decision to launch the call for candidates.

“This lease sale is one more box that the Trump administration is trying to tick for its oil industry allies before leaving the White House in January,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, in a press release. “It is disappointing that this administration to the very end has maintained such low esteem for American public lands, or the wildlife and indigenous communities that depend on it.

In addition, the Bureau of Land Management has revived a plan for a seismic survey in the coastal plain to better assess the oil reserves there. The investigation was proposed by an Alaskan indigenous village company, the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation, bringing in a contractor, SAExploration, which was part of a similar proposal in 2018 and came to nothing.

If the bureau gives final approval to the plan, heavy survey trucks could cross part of the coastal plain by the end of this year.

Environmental groups opposed the plan of investigation, which they say will permanently harm the delicate tundra and could disturb, injure or kill laying polar bears. But even if the investigation continues, it will not be completed until well after the sale.

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White House publishes new earthquake test plan in arctic refuge

The Trump administration has revived long-delayed plans to conduct a seismic survey in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in a prelude to oil drilling there.

On Friday, the Bureau of Land Management released a proposal to launch a seismic survey in December that would look for signs of underground oil reserves on more than half a million acres on the eastern side of the refuge’s coastal plain. The Bureau said it would accept public comment on the plan, proposed by an Alaska Native village society, for 14 days before deciding whether to issue a permit.

Environmental and conservation groups in Alaska and elsewhere immediately criticized the action, saying it would permanently harm the delicate arctic tundra and affect polar bears and other wildlife in one of the most remote areas. and the most pristine in the United States. They also said the quick turnaround meant a thorough environmental review would not be possible.

“The submission of this demand and BLM’s choice to act so close to the election shows how desperate the administration is to hand over one of the country’s most sensitive landscapes to the oil industry,” Lois Epstein , director of the Arctic program for the Wilderness Society, said in a statement. “The federal government is recklessly rushing in and irresponsibly denying the public the time it takes to assess the request and submit comments.”

The lands that would be studied are part of the so-called 1002 area, which the administration and the Trump Congress opened up to oil and gas development in 2017, undoing decades of protection. In August, the Home Office completed its review of plans to sell oil and gas leases in the region, saying the sale could take place before the end of the year. Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to stop the sale, and so far rental sales have not taken place.

Area 1002 is believed to cover geological formations that could contain billions of barrels of oil, but this assessment is based largely on the only seismic survey ever conducted there in the 1980s. Only one exploration well has never been drilled into the shelter and a New York Times investigation found the results to be disappointing.

The new proposal, from the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation, would use improved technology capable of producing three-dimensional images of underground formations. This would involve the deployment of heavy trucks across the tundra in a grid pattern, along with supplies and mobile housing for a team of 180 workers.

Due to the potential for damage to the tundra, work could only be carried out when there was sufficient snow cover and frozen ground. But the damage from previous seismic work, also carried out in winter, is still visible today.

The proposal calls for the work to be performed by a contractor, SAExploration, a Houston-based company that specializes in seismic surveys for the oil and gas industry.

In 2018, SAExploration, along with the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation and another Native Alaskan company, submitted a proposal for a seismic survey at the refuge. But an environmental assessment of the proposal was delayed and the plan was ultimately shelved last year.

SAExploration has since declared bankruptcy, and earlier this month the company and four former senior executives were accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of committing multi-year accounting fraud that inflated the company’s revenue by $ 100 million and concealed the theft of about $ 10 million. by executives.

The new proposal is similar to the one released in 2018, albeit smaller in scope, covering about a third of Area 1002. It also increases efforts to locate polar bear dens in the snow before the seismic trucks start to shoot. to roll. Environmental groups and some scientists who study polar bears fear that seismic equipment could disrupt or even crush dens, which are the winter homes of females and their newborns.

The proposal calls for the use of infrared cameras to detect the heat of polar bears in dens under the snow. But a study published in February suggested that cameras were at risk of missing dens.