Arctic Under Attack

Samantha Bader, Co-President

In one last push to do as much damage to the environment as possible before leaving office, soon to be former President Trump has pushed through a plan to sell drilling rights in the Alaskan wilderness. The National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) is a 23 million acre plain in the Northern part of Alaska, believed to contain 11 billion barrels of oil.

While under the Obama administration drilling was limited to only 50% of this land area, Trump is seeking to change that. The US Bureau of Land Management has signed a plan that would allow for drilling on 80% of the reserve. 

Proponents of this decision have argued that giving oil companies increased access to this reserve will make the United States the world’s largest energy producer. Furthermore, Republican members of the government have indicated that this will provide economic benefit to Alaskan citizens.

Each resident of Alaska currently gets a cheque worth $1600 each year from the revenue created by oil drilling in the state. Trump and his administration have made the decision to sell these oil rights, even in the face of heavy opposition and limited demand from oil companies. 

The largest concern with selling these drilling rights is that it will cause long-standing harm to the environment. This plot of land is one of the last safe habitats for polar bears, who have started building their dens on land in response to the melting arctic ice as the planet heats up. Also, oil drilling in and of itself creates carbon emissions that will accelerate the already dangerously fast levels of global warming. 

“The Trump administration is barrelling forward without doing the careful, legally required analyses of the impacts such activity will have on the environment or the Gwich’in people who have relied on this land for millennia,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, who had sought an injunction against the sale. 

It isn’t only environmental activists and indigenous rights activists who are opposed to the sale of the reserve – big banks are also presenting a problem to this move. The Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and Goldman Sachs have all said publicly that they will not fund any fossil fuel operations in the Arctic circle, making funding the sale quite difficult for oil companies. Furthermore, as the oil industry has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a matter of debate whether or not these companies can afford the drilling rights. 

As the new Biden administration plans to take office, it is likely that they will either attempt to void the sale or not approve permits for Arctic oil drilling in their attempt to slow down climate change. This would delay any drilling, making the purchase of these rights even riskier for oil companies.

While Trump has been determined to continue America’s legacy of fossil fuel production, in this case it looks as though there are enough roadblocks to stop these drilling dreams from actually turning into a drilling reality. 

Photo by Matt Palmer, Unsplash

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