Final Plan for Arctic Refuge Drilling Could Cause Extinctions, Admits Government

The decision to open the refuge’s entire coastal plain to development, combined with climate change, ‘may result in extinction’ for some birds.


By Andy McGlashenAssociate Editor, Audubon Magazine

September 17, 2019

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The U.S. Department of the Interior last week took a major step toward the first-ever oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In a decision that outraged but did not surprise environmentalists, the agency announced its final plan to develop one of the world’s last great wildernesses, acknowledging that its chosen course might wipe out some bird species and harm other animals that make their home on the pristine reserve.

The Trump administration had multiple options when planning to open the 19.3 million-acre sanctuary to drillers. After Republicans in Congress and President Trump directed Interior in 2017 to create a leasing plan for the refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, the department laid out three possible scenarios for energy development there. But on Thursday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that the department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had chosen the most extreme plan, one that makes the entire coastal plain eligible for leasing and comes with the fewest restrictions on industry’s footprint.

Such an aggressive approach, the BLM acknowledged in its final environmental impact statement, combined with the effects of climate change, could drive birds to extinction, as E&E News first reported. Species that nest in the refuge “already are experiencing decreasing populations, and many could suffer catastrophic consequences from the effects of global climate change in one or more of their seasonal continental or even global habitats,” the document says. “These effects combined with development-related impacts across the ranges of many bird species may result in extinction during the 85-year scope of this analysis.”

Some 200 bird species rely on the refuge, including hardy year-round residents like American Dipper, Gyrfalcon, and Rock and Willow Ptarmigan. The area fills with birdlife each summer, including migrants from every U.S. state and six continents, such as Red-throated Loon, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Whimbrel, and the federally threatened Steller’s and Spectacled Eider.

According to the BLM report, development could require energy companies to pump out large volumes from the coastal plain’s limited water bodies, resulting in food and habitat loss for loons and other waterbirds. Additional species could lose nesting habitat to roads and other infrastructure, and a variety of birds will likely be injured or killed in collisions with drilling rigs, communications towers, and vehicles.

Birds are far from the only wildlife with habitat at stake on the coastal plain, a strip of tundra, rivers, and wetlands wedged between the Brooks Range foothills and the Beaufort Sea. Federally threatened polar bears, which nurture their cubs in dens along its rivers and shoreline, will likely be killed as interactions with humans become more common, the impact statement says. Caribou migrate hundreds of miles each spring to give birth on the plain, where there’s plenty to eat, sea winds to keep mosquitoes at bay, and few predators to threaten their calves. With new development, they might find less food there, and are more likely to die in vehicle collisions, among other impacts noted by the BLM.

Spectacled Eiders are among some 200 bird species that rely on the Arctic Refuge. Photo: Danita Delimont/Alamy

While the impact statement mentions some potential threats to wildlife, many experts believe it is not explicit enough when addressing the potential risks and even likelihood of extinction for a variety of species. “Oil and gas infrastructure in the Arctic Refuge, when considered in conjunction with climate change, poses an existential risk to several Arctic bird species,” said Audubon Alaska in a press release. Moreover, choosing such an aggressive development plan despite the toll it will take on wildlife “just goes to show how far this administration is willing to go to extract oil and gas, even in what should be a protected area,” says Susan Culliney, the group’s policy director.

In several high-stakes fights over the past 50 years, advocates for preserving this rare expanse of untouched wild have prevailed over the oil companies, Alaskan politicians, and native corporations that have pursued drilling. Political headwinds—produced in part by the public outrage after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska—have blocked past attempts to open the refuge. A bill to do so made it through Congress in 1995, but President Bill Clinton vetoed it. Democrats and some Republicans have voted to stop other such efforts. A 2017 Yale University poll found that 70 percent of Americans oppose drilling in the refuge.

But that dynamic shifted in December of 2017, when Republicans in Congress, backed by the administration’s call for “energy dominance,” tucked into a tax bill a provision to establish a fossil-fuel leasing program on the refuge’s coastal plain. Sometimes referred to as the 1002 Area, the coastal plain is considered the ecological heart of the refuge, but federal scientists estimate that it also sits atop 7.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The bill gave Interior until 2021 to conduct the first of at least two lease sales, each offering 400,000 or more acres. Department officials have pledged to hold that initial sale this year.

One reason for the aggressive timeline is to give industry a foot in the refuge’s door during President Trump’s first term, since having leases in place would complicate a future administration’s efforts to block drilling there, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said last year.

As a result, the regulatory process—typically measured and deliberate—has been rushed, confusing, and even misleading, according to reports from federal agency employees. A comprehensive review for any leasing program over such a large area would typically take two or three years. But the administration compressed that timeline: The draft environmental impact statement was published last December, only eight months after the review began. Investigations have found that, in its hurry, Interior omitted relevant information, and even altered reports from career scientists to downplay potential environmental impacts. And the rush for leasing this year didn’t leave time for seismic testing to give energy companies an idea of where oil deposits most likely exist, which can only happen when the tundra is frozen.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt called the final environmental impact statement “a big step to carry out the clear mandate we received from Congress to develop and implement a leasing program for the Coastal Plain, a program the people of Alaska have been seeking for over 40 years.”

Energy development in the Arctic Refuge will likely harm polar bears and other wildlife. Photo: Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy

Many Alaskans support drilling in the refuge—perhaps not surprising in a place where, over the past four decades, oil revenue has averaged about 85 percent of the state budget—but questions linger around the purported economic benefits of doing so. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that lease sales would generate only half of the $1.8 trillion in revenues claimed by the Trump administration. More recently, a New York Times analysis found that sales may generate just $45 million across the entire coastal plain.

Although some Alaska Natives advocate tapping into the oil reserves, the Gwich’in people have been outspoken opponents. They live outside the refuge but hold sacred the Porcupine caribou herd that migrates there each spring, and subsist by hunting the animals. The plan announced last week “demonstrates that this administration and the Alaska delegation will disregard our way of life, our food, and our relationship with the land, the caribou, and future generations to pander to industry greed,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in a statement.

Even before the administration’s plan was announced, there was pushback on Capitol Hill. Hours earlier, the House of Representatives passed a bill to prohibit energy development in the refuge. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, but it stands little chance of passing the Republican-majority chamber where pro-drilling Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski holds the powerful chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’m hopeful we can now move to a lease sale in the very near future, just as Congress intended,” Murkowski said in a statement, “so that we can continue to strengthen our economy, our energy security, and our long-term prosperity.”

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are gearing up to fight the plan in the courts. While the plan is final, Interior still needs to issue a formal record of decision, expected in about a month. Once it does so, lawsuits will certainly follow, as they did when the Trump administration lifted protections from national monuments and gutted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other environmental laws and regulations.

The plan is “categorically illegal,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, in a press release. “We will not tolerate the administration’s brazen attempt to paper over the impacts of this disastrous proposal, and we will see them in court for this reckless effort to turn this iconic American landscape into an industrial oilfield.”

Why Is There So Much Oil in the Arctic?

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Why Is There So Much Oil in the Arctic?

An illustration of an oil platform in the Arctic Ocean.

Credit: Shutterstock

In 2007, two Russian submarines plunged down 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) into the Arctic Ocean and planted a national flag onto a piece of continental shelf known as the Lomonosov Ridge. Rising from the center of the Arctic Basin, the flag sent a clear message to the surrounding nations: Russia had just laid claim to the vast oil and gas reserves contained in this underwater turf.

Russia’s dramatic show of power had no legal weight — but it isn’t the only nation that’s trying to stake claims to the Arctic’s vast depository of oil and gas. The United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland and China are all trying to cash in. It’s no wonder: Projections show that the area of land and sea that falls within the Arctic Circle is home to an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil, an incredible 13% of Earth’s reserves. It’s also estimated to contain almost a quarter of untapped global gas resources.

Most of the oil that’s been located in this region so far is on the land, just because it’s easier to access. But now, countries are making moves to start extracting offshore, where the vast majority — 84% — of the energy is believed to occur. But long before this oil race began, how did the Arctic become so energy rich? [How Does Oil Form?]

“The first thing you realize [if you look at a map] is that the Arctic — unlike the Antarctic — is an ocean surrounded by continents,” Alastair Fraser, a geoscientist from Imperial College London, told Live Science. Firstly, this means there’s a huge quantity of organic material available, in the form of dead sea creatures such as plankton and algae, which form the basis of what will ultimately become oil and gas. Secondly, the surrounding ring of continents means that the Arctic Basin contains a high proportion of continental crust, which makes up about 50% of its oceanic area, Fraser explained. That’s significant because continental crust — as opposed to ocean crust, which makes up the rest of the area — typically contains deep depressions called basins, into which organic matter sinks, he said.

Here, it gets embedded in shale and preserved in ‘anoxic’ waters, meaning they contain little oxygen. “Normally, in a shallow sea with lots of oxygen, it would not be preserved. But if the sea is deep enough, the ocean will be stratified, meaning the oxygenated waters at the top will be separated from the anoxic conditions at the base,” Fraser explained. Conserved within these oxygen-deprived basins, the matter maintains compounds that ultimately make it useful as an energy source millions of years in the future.

The geography of the Arctic

The geography of the Arctic

Credit: Alistair Fraser

As mountains erode over millennia, the continents also provide a wealth of sediment, transported via huge rivers into the sea. This sediment flows into the basins, where it overlays the organic material, and over time, forms a hard but porous material known as “reservoir rock,” Fraser said. Fast-forward millions of years, and this repeated layering process has put the organic material under such immense pressure that it has begun to heat up.

“The temperature of the sediments in basins increases roughly 30 degrees Centigrade [54 degrees Fahrenheit] with every 1 kilometer [0.6 miles] of burial,” Fraser said. Under this intensifying pressure and heat, the organic material very gradually transforms into oil, with the highest temperatures forming gas.

Because these substances are buoyant, they begin moving upward into the gaps within the porous sedimentary rock, which becomes like a storage container — the reservoir — from which oil and gas are extracted.

So it’s the combination of these ingredients — huge quantities of organic matter, abundant sediment to lock in the oil and gas, the ideal underlying geology and the huge scale across which these occur — which makes the Arctic Ocean so unusually energy rich. (On land, where a smaller percentage of the Arctic’s overall oil and gas lies, these reserves were most likely formed in a time when the land was covered by sea.)

However, just because the energy is there doesn’t mean it should be extracted, many conservationists and scientists say. The Arctic’s remoteness, its dense, moving sea ice and drifting icebergs will make it a huge logistical challenge to safely extract oil and gas. [How Are Oil Spills Cleaned?]

“I really don’t support it, because the industry does not have the technology to do it safely and in an environmentally friendly way,” Fraser said. “Some people will argue that you never can do it in the Arctic in an environmentally friendly way.”

Even on land, plans to expand oil and gas development in the Arctic are treated with concern. This year, the United States government intends to start leasing land in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy companies, because the refuge contains a vast, 1.5 million-acre (607,000 hectares) coastal plain that’s rich in oil. But, it’s also a biodiverse landscape that’s home to huge migratory herds of caribou, hundreds of bird species and polar bears. “It’s been called America’s last great wilderness; it’s one of the ecologically richest landscapes in the U.S.,” said Garett Rose, an attorney with the Alaska Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Credit: Garett Rose

It’s not just the increased risk of oil spills if drilling goes ahead that’s concerning; conservationists also worry about seismic exploration, which “involves running these giant trucks over the landscape to send shock waves into the ground that return information on the underlying geology,” Rose told Live Science. That would cause obvious disruption to wildlife. Construction of roads and pipelines will slice up this intact landscape and bring in increasing numbers of people — which will intensify the pressure on wildlife.

“[The refuge] is a dynamic and interconnected landscape that’s extremely sensitive to change,” Rose said. He also said he was concerned about the U.S. government’s recent (but failed) attempt to open the Arctic off Alaska’s coast to offshore drilling, too. “This is part of a wholesale attempt to expand oil and gas development across the Arctic,” Rose said.

Indeed, the situation in the Alaskan Refuge provides just a taster of what could unfold in other parts of the Arctic, if oil and gas extraction projects forge ahead. The risk of oil spills is enlarged offshore, because they’d be impossible to contain — with untold potential effects on sea life. And some scientists say the greatest ultimate threat is climate change. Bringing these fossil fuels to the surface would only lead to more fuel use, and more emissions being pumped into our atmosphere.

We’re not there yet: Countries need to ratify an international United Nations agreement if they want to extract fossil fuels from parts of the continental shelf that fall beyond their offshore jurisdiction. That’s slowing the Arctic rush. Still, international pressure is mounting, with countries like Russia having already staked out their claim on the seafloor.

And it could be a hard sell to make countries see that those reserves should remain untapped. In short, said Fraser, “I hope this region doesn’t become too important [for energy production].”

Originally published on Live Science.

Alaska Wants to Fight Warming While Still Drilling for Oi



As the state weathers impacts of climate change, its economy still relies on fossil fuels

Alaska Wants to Fight Warming While Still Drilling for Oil
The Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) near Copperville, Alaska. Credit: Daniel Acker Getty Images

Alaska’s appetite for oil is as ubiquitous as the state’s proliferating examples of a changing climate.

The Arctic is melting faster than anywhere else in the world. Permafrost is thawing and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Warmer air and ocean water have diminished sea ice. Native villages along the coast are moving inland to flee rising seas.

But climate change is a political issue. Although Alaskans may not dispute the science, they do disagree about what to do about it. After all, oil and gas makes up the vast majority of the state’s revenue. After the price of oil plummeted in recent years, oil drillers slowed production, crippling the state’s economy.

Now, amid tough economic times, three gubernatorial candidates—one Democrat and two Republicans—are challenging Gov. Bill Walker, an independent who is running for re-election.

Economics are the most important issue in the race, political observers note. And economics are tied to attitudes about climate policies. Every Alaskan is paid a per-person royalty based on the amount of oil sucked out of Alaskan soil. Residents therefore have a direct interest in continued production. This creates a steep challenge for politicians hoping to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s almost schizophrenic,” said Beth Kerttula, a Democratic former state legislator who later served as director of the National Oceans Council under President Obama. “You can see climate change immediately. … At the same time, we have the oil industry in particular wanting to open the [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] and bringing in more development. I think that has affected our politics in ways that are just very profound.”

None of the candidates running to be Alaska’s governor opposes oil drilling in the Arctic.

To the left of Walker, Mark Begich, a former Democratic senator who jumped into the race in the eleventh hour, said his position to support oil drilling has stayed the same, adding that some environmentally sensitive places like Bristol Bay should be off-limits. On the right, Mike Dunleavy and Mead Treadwell—Republicans who will face off during next month’s primary election—have ardently supported more drilling while at times questioning human’s role in global warming.

Faced with salient examples of climate change, Walker convened a task force last year that holds regular meetings throughout the state to gather evidence. It released a draft report in April proposing climate policies, which emphasize adapting to a warming planet over mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

The task force appears to be a reincarnation of efforts launched by former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin in 2007, a year before she disavowed human-caused climate change on the presidential campaign trail. Climate hawks lament that in the decade since, actual implementation of climate policies has stalled.

In fact, the politically irreconcilable climate perspectives are even spelled out in the task force’s draft report: “The state economy is dependent on natural resource development, including oil and natural gas production,” the draft report states. “While these resources are finite and contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions, which are a root cause of climate change, they also support essential government services and as such our ability to adapt and respond.”

But beyond oil, there is not much else in Alaska to generate revenue; state lawmakers have blocked a sales tax and income tax.


Because the governor’s race is a three-way contest, the Republican nominee has an advantage as Walker and Begich are competing for many of the same voters.

“The odds are that the Republican wins,” said Mike Coumbe, a longtime conservationist and political observer. “If there was betting in Las Vegas, that’s the way the bets would be laid. There is still an open question that one of the candidates would pull out, but it seems like the egos are too high.”

The Cook Political Report calls the race a toss-up.

In an interview with E&E News, Begich stressed hardships in Alaska. He blames the current administration for failing to diversify the economy. University graduation rates are low. Crime rates are high. People are leaving the state. “We need to be better than these data points,” he said.

He further complained that the state Legislature in 2010 set a goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2025. But it is not on track to achieve that target.

As for Walker’s climate task force, Begich said: “When I was mayor of Anchorage, I did not form a task force to work on this issue. We just got busy.”

Although he supports oil drilling in the Arctic, Begich said he does not support drilling in environmentally sensitive places such as Bristol Bay. It is the “same reason I don’t support mining in Pebble mine,” he said. Pebble mine is a controversial gold mine in the Bristol Bay region in the southwest part of the state.

Begich has said over the years that Alaskan Democrats are “different.” Support for oil drilling is among the key reasons.

Eight years ago, Begich was named by the environmental group Friends of the Earth one of the “BP Ten,” for being among the 10 members of Congress who’ve received the most money from the oil company shortly after the Deepwater Horizon spill tarnished its reputation. A spokesperson at the time told E&E News: “You can’t ask for a better endorsement in Alaska than getting blasted on recycled paper by Friends of the Earth. Oil and gas companies are a major part of Alaska’s economy and employ thousands of people in our state” (Greenwire, June 18, 2010).

On the right, Dunleavy, a former state senator, is believed to be the GOP front-runner. Treadwell, a former lieutenant governor, jumped into the race at the last minute. The primary election is Aug. 21.

Dunleavy, the first to contest Walker, criticized the governor’s climate change task force at a debate last month. It “would be one thing if we were a smokestack state like Ohio or Pennsylvania, but we’re not,” he said, according to the newspaper Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. “We’re a resource development state, not a manufacturing state.”

He added: “The opportunity in Alaska is amazing. We haven’t run out of oil, haven’t run out of gas, timber, fish, gold—you name it. Yet the Lower 48 has passed us by, and we’re in a malaise. We have folks leaving the state, and [our policies] are drifting farther to the left and pushing us toward becoming a welfare state.”

Treadwell has talked about the melting Arctic but has questioned human responsibility. Seeking an endorsement in 2010 from a conservative group, he wrote: “I challenge the argument that man made CO2 emissions are causing significant global warming and I will oppose any costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices and weaken the nation’s global competitiveness” (Climatewire, Aug. 26, 2010).

What’s new for this gubernatorial election is that voters are automatically registered to vote when they signed up to receive their annual dividend. Begich said he believes that will help him.


More than 400,000 barrels are produced in the state every day, according to the Alaska Oil & Gas Association, and shipped all over the world.

The state has largely failed to diversify its economy, and oil and gas remain the key economic drivers, explained Jerry McBeath, a retired environmental politics professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “Time after time we go back to oil,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll be depleted in the next century.”

Walker’s popularity plummeted last year after he cut the royalties from the state’s permanent fund. The fund currently doles out $1,000 to every Alaskan every year. Walker had cut the checks nearly in half to pay for government services.

Last year, shortly after President Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord, Walker convened the task force to address climate change. Democratic Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, an Alaska leader of Tlingit heritage, heads the effort. Speaking at an event in Washington this spring, Mallott recalled seeing massive Alaska glaciers as a child, unable to imagine that they would not be there someday.

Mallott said the Walker administration felt a keen sense of responsibility to be engaged on climate change, “regardless of what our federal government did.”

The draft policies have emphasized adapting to sinking houses rather than mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions. The task force will present policy recommendations to the governor in September.

Kerttula said she was impressed by the work the task force was doing. “The committee is now working on specific recommendations that I know are really important, such as working with Tribes, bringing back coastal zone management, changing the Stafford Act so communities falling into the ocean can get federal help, supporting ocean observing—teaching kids about what is happening, and aggressively reducing carbon,” she wrote in an email.

Others were less enthusiastic.

“It’s good to see our state administration facilitating discussion of climate change action. But we’ve been here before,” said Polly Carr, executive director of the Alaska Center. “Alaskans have been talking about climate change since the Palin administration, with little policy and action to show for it.”

Palin’s administrative order issued in 2007 created a Climate Change Sub-Cabinet to develop recommendations on a number of issues, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, assessing impacts on vulnerable communities and exploring carbon-trading markets.

But the recommendations never went anywhere, and Palin sharply changed her tune on mainstream climate change science when she became the GOP vice presidential candidate in 2008.

Fast-forward to today, and little progress has been made.

Speaking in Washington, Mallott acknowledged a common attitude in Alaska: The state’s emissions are so minor—there are only 750,000 people in the state—that it isn’t worth engaging on the issue. “To us, that is the worst kind of attitude,” he said. “Every action that we can take no matter how small is important and ultimately beneficial.”

But for the politicians running to be Alaska’s governor, that doesn’t mean oil drilling should stop.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at

US Senate Quietly Passes Alaska Oil-Drilling Bill

  • The 19.6-million acre refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife

    The 19.6-million acre refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife | Photo: Reuters FILE

“It’s outrageous that the oil lobby and their allies in Congress are trying to destroy the crown jewel of America’s wildlife refuge system.”

Late Saturday the United States Senate passed a Bill that will allow oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – an area which has been protected since 1960.

Arctic Nations Meet in Alaska Under Climate Change Concern

Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski, managed to get a narrow 52-48 vote for the Bill – a part of the tax reform legislation – to pass.

The 19.6-million acre refuge is located in northeastern Alaska and is home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife, but also billions of barrels of crude oil underground.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will authorize the sale of oil and gas leases in a section of the ANWR on Alaska’s coastal plain that faces the Arctic Ocean.

Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, expressed displeasure with the passing of the bill, stating that “sacrificing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has absolutely no place in a tax bill” adding it was “outrageous that some politicians will do anything to sneak this sell-out past the American people”.

“It’s outrageous that the oil lobby and their allies in Congress are trying to destroy the crown jewel of America’s wildlife refuge system after nearly four decades of bipartisan support for protecting it,” Williams continued.

“Fortunately, this fight isn’t over, and we are committed to fighting this legislation every step of the way.

But, the resources committee head held an opposing perspective regarding the area.

“This small package offers a tremendous opportunity for Alaska, for the Gulf Coast, and for all of our nation,” Murkowski said, according to The Washington Examiner.

“We have authorized responsible energy development in the 1002 area.”

One committee member, Senator Maria Cantwell, told The Washington Examiner before the vote: “We don’t think this has been a fair and open process. The only way they have been able to get any place on this issue is to throw away the regular process.”

GOP-Controlled Senate Paves Way for Oil Drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

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The Senate Republicans’ narrow passage of the 2018 budget plan on Thursday opened the door for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR).

But Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups criticized the GOP for sneaking the “backdoor drilling provision” through the budget process. Past proposals to drill in the refuge have consistently failed.

The budget was passed through a legislative tool known as reconciliation which only requires a simple majority, rather than 60 votes. The budget was approved 51-49, with Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul joining Democrats in opposition, paving the way for President Trump‘s tax overhaul proposal.

Drilling ANWR would raise revenue for Trump’s tax plan that cuts taxes for the rich.

ANWR, the largest protected wilderness in the U.S., consists of more than 19 million acres of pristine landscapes and is home to 37 species of land mammals, eight marine mammals, 42 fish species and more than 200 migratory bird species.

“The budget passed by the Senate today sets in motion a sellout of some of our most iconic public lands and waters to the highest bidder, in order to fund tax breaks for billionaires,” said Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen.

“Drilling in the Arctic Refuge is not a budget issue, and should not be part of the budget reconciliation process,” Van Noppen added. “This is a blatant attempt to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a divisive and controversial proposal that would lead us in the wrong direction on climate.”

Senate Democrats, led by Maria Cantwell of Washington, offered an amendment to the Senate’s budget resolution that would block drilling in the Alaskan refuge but the measure failed 48-52 mostly along party lines.

Republicans led a “sneak attack” that turned “public lands over to polluters,” Cantwell said.

Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon also said that there is “something cynical and sad” about opening ANWR since it would increase oil output from a state being impacted by climate change the fastest.

Conservatives have sought for decades to open up parts of the refuge to create jobs and boost the energy sector. As Reuters reported, Republicans have targeted the so-called 1002 area on the Prudhoe Bay in Northern Alaska, which has an estimated 12 billion barrels of recoverable crude.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has long championed opening up the Arctic Refuge to drilling, called the 1002 a “non wilderness area” since the government set it aside for petroleum exploration decades ago.

But Earthjustice noted that the targeted area hosts migratory bird species and endangered wildlife and is considered to be sacred to the indigenous Gwich’in people, who sustain themselves from the caribou that migrate there.

“Americans should be outraged at the shameless hijacking of the federal budget process. This fight is far from over,” said Wilderness Society president Jamie Williams. “Now is the time for Americans across the country to speak out. Congress cannot sneak this through the back door when they think nobody is looking. The Arctic Refuge is simply too fragile and special to drill, and we have a moral obligation to protect it for future generations of Americans.”

The Wilderness Society pointed out that the battle is not over yet.

“The Senate’s drilling provision is just the first step towards drilling in the Arctic Refuge,” the organization stated. “It requires the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to draft instructions to reduce the federal deficit through revenues created by oil and gas leasing in the refuge. The House has already passed a similar budget provision, but both houses of Congress must now work to reconcile their budget versions before final passage and delivery to the president.”

Alaska Pipeline Leaked Gas into Endangered Animals’ Habitat for Five Months

The area has been subjected to a number of gas and oil leaks.

An underwater gas pipeline in Alaska that had been leaking gas for almost five months has finally been repaired.

North Dakota Oil Spill 3 Times Larger Than Initially Thought

The 8-inch diameter pipeline, which supplies gas for power to four Hilcorp Alaska, LLC production platforms, was found leaking on Feb. 7 when a helicopter crew spotted gas bubbling near it.

An analysis of the flow found that the pipeline likely started to leak in mid-December. Hilcorp said floating ice and other weather conditions made it too dangerous for divers to reach the leak sooner.

Dive crews began working on repairing the leak on April 8 and finished Thursday night.

“Now that the leak has been stopped, over the next several days, as weather permits, further inspection and stabilization of both the oil and gas pipelines in Middle Ground Shoal will be completed,” Hilcorp said, as reported by KTUU. “Neither pipeline will be returned to regular service until Hilcorp, along with state and federal regulators, agree it is safe to do so.”

Indigenous and Environmental Groups Sue Trump Over Keystone XL

The leak spewed hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of processed natural gas into Alaska’s Cook Inlet, which is home to endangered beluga whales and other marine mammals. It had leaked twice in 2014.

Environmental groups are concerned about both the short and long-term effects of the leak, and many are calling for a risk assessment of the area, given the extensive network of energy infrastructure in the inlet.

“It’s scary to think about how decayed some of the offshore pipelines littering Cook Inlet may be,” Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “These old, vulnerable pipelines pose a toxic threat to the people and wildlife of Cook Inlet.”

Hilcorp is also looking into two other potential Cook Inlet leaks.