Inaction on Bear Survey Halts ANWR Seismic Plans

The US Interior Department says native company missed deadline to conduct polar bear den assessment work ahead of planned geological activity.

Image of polar bear on ice

A lack of required polar bear assessments has prompted the US Department of the Interior pull the plug on a planned seismic survey in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Native-owned Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. (KIC) had applied for permission to complete the work but failed to conduct the required three aerial surveys to identify polar bear dens in the area, according to an emailed statement from Interior spokesperson Melissa Schwartz.

Identification of polar bear den sites was needed for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to grant KIC an incidental harassment authorization, a permit that would allow seismic operations near polar bears, Schwartz said.

“The company was advised today that their request is no longer actionable,” she said in her statement.

KIC had hired SAExploration to conduct seismic surveys on 352,416 acres within the refuge’s coastal plain. The company missed a February 13 deadline to perform its aerial den-detection work, Schwartz said.

The Interior action is the latest setback to expanding oil and gas exploration in Alaska to include ANWR.

On January 6, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management held an oil and gas lease auction authorized by the outgoing Trump administration covering more than one million acres in ANWR. The sale fizzled with no major oil companies bidding on tracts. The offering attracted just three bidders including the state of Alaska itself. The state acquired rights to seven of the parcels offered for lease in the refuge’s coastal plain. Two small companies, Regenerate Alaska, a subsidiary of 88 Energy, and Knik Arm Services each picked up a single parcel.

Environmental rights group Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign called the auction “a sham” in a social media post.

In one of his first acts as the new US President, Joseph Biden signed an executive order placing a temporary moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“In light of the alleged legal deficiencies underlying the program, including the inadequacy of the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act, the Secretary of the Interior shall, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, place a temporary moratorium on all activities of the Federal Government relating to the implementation of the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program,” the order said.

ANWR covers about 19 million acres and is located in the northeast corner of Alaska.