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Attorney General Becerra Opposes Proposal to Allow Seismic Testing in Alaskan Wildlife Refuge

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, as part of a coalition of 14 attorneys general, today submitted comments to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opposing the Kaktovik Inupait Corporation's proposal to conduct seismic surveys for oil and gas deposits in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's Coastal Plain (Coastal Plain). Attorney General Becerra, as part of a similar coalition, is currently in court challenging BLM’s decision to move forward with a leasing program that would open more than one million acres of the Coastal Plain to oil and gas drilling based on a flawed Final Environmental Impact Statement. BLM is now pursuing a rushed process to approve this seismic testing program, despite ongoing litigation and the environmental impacts that are clearly associated with the proposal. In the comment letter, the attorneys general urge BLM to complete an adequate environmental review and public comment period as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) prior to authorizing seismic activity in the region. 

“President Trump’s utter disregard for our environment is a well-established fact,” said Attorney General Becerra. “It’s sadly unsurprising that BLM is trying to jam through a proposal to allow seismic testing in one of the last true pristine wilderness areas in the United States while litigation over the proposed leasing program and its environmental review is ongoing. We’re prepared to fight this reckless defiance of our nation’s laws on steroids these next two months.”

The Kaktovik Inupait Corporation’s proposal would subject over 450,000 acres of the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain to seismic testing and allow construction of hundreds of miles of snow access trails, multiple airstrips, and thousands of miles of receiver lines. The proposal is expected to significantly impact the environment, including essential habitat for polar bears, caribou, and migratory birds, yet BLM has not conducted a detailed environmental review of the proposal, as required by NEPA. In addition, despite ongoing litigation challenging BLM’s decision to move forward with a program for leasing more than one million acres of the Coastal Plain, BLM is rushing through this process, allowing only a brief 14-day comment period on the Kaktovik Inupait Corporation's proposal. BLM has also failed to consider the purposes for which Congress created the Arctic Refuge and how the proposal will be compatible with those purposes.

In the comment letter, the attorneys general argue that BLM must not authorize activities in the Coastal Plain without fully complying with federal environmental laws and carefully considering the immediate and long-term impacts of seismic activity in one of the nation’s last remaining wild places. Specifically, BLM:

  • Must prepare an Environmental Impact Statement before authorizing seismic activity in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge;
  • Cannot satisfy its obligations under NEPA by relying on the legally deficient Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Program Environmental Impact Statement; and
  • Must provide an explanation of how the proposal will be compatible with and fulfill the purposes of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Attorney General Becerra joins the states of Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont in filing the comment letter.  

A copy of the comment letter can be found here.