The federal government's first public meetings in preparation for oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will begin this month in the only village in the refuge, with meetings also planned in Alaska cities and Washington, D.C.
The Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday released a list of seven communities where it will hold meetings to collect information from the public as it prepares an environmental assessment on the impact of leasing and drilling in the refuge's 1.6-million-acre coastal plain.
Republicans in Congress opened the refuge in northeast Alaska to drilling in December after 40 years of unsuccessful attempts. Supporters say oil production from the refuge will support the Alaska economy and national security, while critics say development will harm the region and wildlife such as migrating caribou.
"It's important that we take the time to gather all the relevant issues to guide our environmental analysis of the coastal plain," said Karen Mouritsen, BLM's acting state director, in a prepared statement Wednesday. "We realize the importance of this place to not only Alaskans, but the nation in its quest to responsibly develop our natural resources and achieve energy dominance."
The environmental review will help set the terms of the lease sales, including scope, stipulations and conservation requirements.
The department must hold two lease sales in the coastal plain by the end of 2024, with each sale covering at least 400,000 acres. The entire refuge covers 19.3 million acres.
The first meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. May 22 in the Kaktovik community hall. The village of 240 is on an island near the refuge's coastal plain.
Other meetings will be in:
The Anchorage and Fairbanks meetings will be live-streamed to reach a broad audience, at www.blm.gov/live. Computers will be available for the public to comment electronically.
BLM said there will be scheduled speaking spots for representatives of interested organizations and governments.
The agency last month launched the regulatory process to prepare for leasing in the 19 million-acre refuge.