Alaska Experiences Extreme Wildfires


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | July 25, 2022

In Alaska, wildfires are burning in ways that are rarely seen. Areas that are usually fireproof, or mostly fireproof, are burning.

More than 530 wildfires have burned an area the size of Connecticut, and the usual worst of the fire season is still later in the summer. While little property has burned, some residents have been forced to evacuate.

Recent rains have helped but longer-term forecasts are showing a pattern similar to 2004. In 2004, July rains gave way to high-pressure systems, hot days, low humidity and lightning strikes that fueled Alaska’s worst fire year.

The acreage burned by mid-July was about the same as now, but by the time that fire season ended, 10,156 square miles were burned.

Heat waves and droughts are making wildfires more frequent, destructive, and harder to fight in many places. This month, wildfires have torn through Portugal, Spain, France, England and Germany, which have seen record-high temperatures.

Alaska Judge Blocks Oil Project


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Josie Taylor | August 19, 2021

On Wednesday, an Alaskan federal judge blocked construction permits for an oil drilling project that was supposed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Judge Sharon L. Gleason cited climate dangers in her opinion for why the project should exist.

This massive oil drilling plan was proposed under the Trump administration and legally backed by the Biden administration. Environmental groups, such as Earthjustice sued, saying both the Trump and Biden administration had failed to take into account the effects that drilling would have on wildlife and climate change. Judge Gleason took their side.

The main reason why Judge Gleason sided with the environmental groups was because of the greenhouse gas emissions that would be released with the drilling. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, which then warms Earth

Many places in the United States and the world are experiencing climate crises. Jeremy Lieb, lawyer with Earthjustice, stated that the federal government should recognize we are in a climate emergency. Lieb believes blocking this oil drilling project would be a good start. 

Biden to Suspend Oil and Gas Leases in Alaskan Wildlife Refuge


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Elizabeth Miglin | June 2, 2021

The Biden administration is suspending all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in order to take a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the region, the Interior Department announced on Tuesday. 

The Refuge is a 1.6 million-acre stretch of tundra on Alaska’s North Slope and is home to endangered polar bears whose population have been in dramatic decline due to diminishing sea ice. The region also provides important calving habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd.

Under the Trump administration, the Bureau of Land Management began administering an oil and gas program in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The opening of the coast to drilling signified the culmination of a four-decade-long effort by the oil industry to gain access to the refuge. The lease sale on January 6, 2021 resulted in 10-year leases on nine tracts covering more than 430,000 acres according to the Department of the Interior. Imposing more restrictions on development in the region or ending the leases altogether would undo a signature policy of the Trump administration. 

The suspension of the leases follows the Biden Administrations official review of the activity in the Refuge. The review found multiple defects in the Record of Decision supporting the leases, such as the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives and other legal deficiencies. The suspensions, notably, do not go as far as environmental groups might hope as they do not void the leases all together. However, the initial executive order to review the leases left open the possibility the department would establish a new environmental review process to address legal flaws in the program itself. 

Arctic Drilling Leases Might Not Get Many Takers as Deadline Approaches


Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | December 31, 2020

The Trump administration successfully opened roughly one million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling following his election defeat, but oil companies might not have any interest in buying the 10-year leases.

Today marks the deadline for submitting bids on the oil leases, so the exact number of companies that have expressed interest is unclear. However, there has previously been little indication that oil companies are interested in buying the leases for several reasons. The drilling conditions would be difficult and the cost of locating the oil is high. Many companies are also concerned about damaging their reputation by drilling on previously-protected lands as Alaska natives and environmentalists continue to oppose drilling on the refuge, and many major banks have refused to finance companies who wish to drill there. The oil industry is struggling to make money during the pandemic as global interest shifts to renewable energy sources as it is, so the state of Alaska might be forced to step in and buy the leases itself, according to a New York Times article.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state-owned corporation, recently voted to authorize bidding up to $20 million for some of the oil leases. If the corporation succeeds in securing the leases, the state of Alaska could become the sole owner and would be left with hoping that it can sublease the tracts to someone else if interest in drilling on the refuge ever picks up. There are legal questions as to whether the corporation qualifies as a bidder and ongoing efforts by Alaska natives and environmental groups to halt the bidding and sale of the leases altogether, so it is still unclear how the sales will proceed.

The National Arctic Wildlife Refuge was protected for decades by Democrats in Congress. It provides a sanctuary for polar bears, caribou, migrating waterfowl and other wildlife, and the Trump administration was the first to successfully push a bill through that allowed for drilling on 1.5 million acres of protected land. The Bureau of Land Management was able to remove about half a million acres from the bidding after citing concerns about disturbing caribou calving areas and other wildlife, but about a million acres across 22 tracts are still available. The Bureau of Land Management will reveal the number of bids received once the bids are opened after the submission deadline.

Trump Administration Auctions Land in Wildlife Refugee


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Maxwell Bernstein | November 18, 2020

As of Tuesday, the Trump administration auctioned off development rights for land in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to allow oil and gas companies to drill, according to NPR.

The Bureau of Land Management will receive all nominations and comments on the tracts of land before Dec. 17, 2020, according to the official “Call for Nominations and Comments for the Coastal Plain Alaska Oil and Gas Lease Sale.”  

The Arctic refuge’s coastal plain, the region that is being auctioned, is about 1.6 million acres of land where caribou migrate, polar bears den, and migratory birds feed. 

In 63 days president-elect Joe Biden will take office on Jan. 20, 2021, making this auction a last push for the Trump administration to benefit oil and gas companies.  

On the Radio: Iowans look to energy policy when choosing presidential candidates


(Daniel Morrison / Flickr)
(Daniel Morrison / Flickr)

July 20, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent poll that shows Iowans consider energy policies when choosing presidential candidates. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa Poll on Energy Policy

Iowa voters consider energy production to be a major factor when selecting candidates for the upcoming presidential election.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

An April poll by the Consumer Energy Alliance found that 82 percent of registered Iowa voters said that they consider the energy policies of presidential hopefuls to be a major factor when selecting a candidate. The poll also found that 52 percent of Iowans support offshore drilling for oil in U.S. waters near Alaska, while 32 percent opposed it. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finds that there are approximately 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Alaska outer continental shelf.

Proponents of offshore drilling say that it will create jobs and lead to energy independence, while opponents cite environmental concerns with the drilling as well as with the drilling of fossil fuels.

For more information about the poll, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.