Photo by Whitehorse Star
Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm
The Vuntut Gwitchin government and Gwich’in Tribal Council are denouncing the latest step toward opening up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas exploration and development.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a Call for Nominations for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program.
The call is the process to identify areas to be offered in the forthcoming lease sale, and is typically used for industry to comment on what areas are of most interest for them.
Submissions will be accepted by the BLM until Dec. 17.
The Vuntut Gwitchin government and tribal council are calling for their allies to take action.
“After using undemocratic methods to slip a provision within the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and completing an unlawful Environmental Impact Statement process, the U.S. administration has taken the next step towards opening up the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, critical habitat of the Porcupine caribou herd and sacred lands to the Gwich’in Nation, to destructive drilling,” they said in a statement.
Following the call for nominations, they expect the BLM to release a Notice of Lease Sale and Detailed Statement of Sale at least 30 days before holding a lease sale.
“Vuntut Gwitchin government and Gwich’in Tribal Council continue to carry forward the mandate of our elders to protect the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd from industrial exploitation,” they said.
“Our governments and our communities have worked tirelessly to raise our concerns and bring forward our knowledge to the BLM to no prevail.
“Vuntut Gwitchin government and Gwich’in Tribal Council call upon our partners, allies, and friends to stand with us, the entire Gwich’in Nation and the Porcupine caribou herd to use the call for nominations as another opportunity to tell the BLM, and any company who might be willing to pursue leases, why drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge cannot proceed and what will happen if it does.”
Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm, based in Old Crow, said President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration “is barreling forward towards a lease sale in the sacred lands of our nation while on its last legs.
“While no amount of money can ever justify what is taking place here, it has been shown, time and time again, that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been driven by politics, not economics.
“Investors representing trillions of dollars in assets and dozens of global banks have recognized this and have made it clear that drilling these lands is bad business,” Tizya-Tramm added.
“Any company willing to participate in a lease sale of the coastal plain knows that their intentions to destroy these lands are against the rights of the Gwich’in Nation, the will of the American public, the recommendations of all levels of Canadian governments and the views of the President- elect.”
Grand Chief Ken Smith of the tribal council said it has “continuously expressed that the environmental and social costs of any development in the ANWR significantly outweigh any potential economic benefit that may result.
“We view this lease sale as a desperate last-ditch attempt by the Trump administration to threaten the Gwich’in way of life,” Smith added.
“The sacred grounds of the ANWR need to be protected for the sake of the caribou and our people. We are expecting new President-elect Biden to follow through on his election promise to protect this area and stand with the Gwich’in against this proposed violation of our Indigenous and human rights.”
The Gwich’in of the Northwest Territories stand with the cause “and vehemently oppose any and all plans for development in the ANWR,” Smith said.
“In the interim, we will be working with our partners to pursue all regulatory and legal options to ensure that our voices are heard, and these lands are protected for future generations.”
For decades, the oil industry and some members of U.S. Congress unsuccessfully attempted to open the refuge to oil and gas development.
In 2017, a lease sale for oil and gas development become law through a provision included in the U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
The provision mandates two lease sales, of at least 400,000 acres each, in the coastal plain for oil and gas development, production and transportation “by not later than 10 years after the date of enactment.”
On Aug. 24, 2020, the Gwich’in Steering Committee, representing the Gwich’in Nation of Alaska and Canada, sued the U.S. government for allegedly violating a number of laws and regulations in approving the leasing program. This lawsuit, and three others, are currently ongoing.
The United Nations has called for investigation into allegations that proposed oil and gas development in the coastal plain violates the human rights of the Gwich’in.
Preservationists note that investors representing more than $2.5 trillion in assets have openly opposed development in the refuge.
Dozens of global banks have updated their policies to prohibit financing drilling in the refuge, including the Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank of Canada, and, most recently, Toronto- Dominion Bank.
“The provision authorizing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was done so as a partial offset to the tax cuts made in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” the Vuntut Gwitchin government and the tribal council said.
“In order the bring in the $1 billion for the federal treasury projected by drilling proponents, every acre of the coastal plain would need to be sold for more than $1,000 per acre, which is a significant departure from what has been realized in lease sales of the North Slope of Alaska to date.”
Biden has stated he “totally opposes” drilling in the refuge.
Jonathan Wilkinson, the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change, said Nov. 10 in Ottawa that “Canada has long opposed development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge due to the potential impact to the Porcupine caribou herd and to Indigenous Ppeoples.
“Porcupine caribou and their calving grounds are invaluable to the culture and subsistence of the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit peoples.
“I have been closely tracking proposed developments in the refuge and their potential effect on transboundary wildlife,” Wilkinson added.
A proposed seismic project, the Marsh Creek East Seismic Exploration, is currently under environmental review by the U.S. and is at the end of its public comment period.
Canada reviewed the relevant documents, focusing on the impact on species covered by management agreements with the U.S. related to te Porcupine caribou, polar bears and migratory birds, and submitted official comments for the assessment process.
“In partnership with Indigenous and territorial governments, Canada has continued to raise significant concerns over development plans in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Wilkinson said.
“The schedule of this project extends into the time that caribou would arrive for calving in the refuge, and the project would foster future development on their core calving grounds.
“We believe this represents a significant risk for the herd and for the Indigenous peoples and northerners that depend on it.”
He vowed to continue to work with federal officials and domestic partners to raise the concerns with the U.S.
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