A noticed to be published Friday in the Federal Register will start the environmental review process for setting up an oil and gas leasing program in the refuge’s 1.5-million-acre coastal plain.
The review will help identify potential environmental issues related to the development, production and transportation of oil and gas in and from the coastal plain, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management said in a statement.
Public hearings will be held in Anchorage, Arctic Village, Fairbanks, Kaktovik and Utqiagvik and possibly other areas if there is strong community interest, the agency said.
Republicans in Congress, who for years have sought to open up the refuge to oil and gas exploration, praised the Trump administration’s move as a step that is long overdue and one that will lead to responsible energy development.
“We appreciate the department following the law, planning multiple public meetings with Alaskans and moving forward on this important program to help ensure the energy and economic security of our nation,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a joint statement with the other two members of Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation.
But environmental groups accused the administration of rushing toward oil and gas drilling while disregarding the biological, cultural and climate impacts on a rapidly warming Arctic.
“Our generation must not allow the Trump administration to transform the wildest place left in America into an industrial complex of oil rigs, roads, pipelines and landing strips,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.