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Seismic exploration in ANWR canceled for winter after feds say polar bear survey wasn’t finished on time

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: February 23
  • Published February 22

An Alaska Native corporation hoping to receive a federal permit to scout for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge did not finish aerial surveys for polar bears on time, according to the U.S. Interior Department, making it unlikely the project will happen.

Katkovik Inupiat Corp., the Alaska Native corporation for the only village in the refuge, has applied with the Bureau of Land Management for permission to conduct a seismic survey in the refuge this winter, using large trucks crisscrossing the frozen tundra. The trucks would generate seismic waves to map underground rock formations that might hold oil, like an ultrasound of the earth.

But the company has failed to take steps to receive a related authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for incidental harassment involving threatened polar bears, according to an emailed statement from Melissa Schwartz, a spokesperson with the U.S. Interior Department, on Monday.

Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. confirmed this week that it had not conducted three aerial surveys to detect polar bear dens, as required by Feb. 13, the statement said.

On Saturday, the company was informed its request is “no longer actionable,” the statement said.

Officials with the Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The Biden administration moved swiftly to delay oil and gas activity in the refuge, after a Republican-led Congress in 2017 approved it. Democratic President Joe Biden opposes drilling in the refuge.

The federal government issued nine leases to three entities that bid for rights to pursue oil and gas activity in the refuge’s coastal plain, following a lease sale in early January that attracted little interest.

Kaktovik is located toward the coastal plain’s eastern section, away from any of the leased tracts. The bidders, including the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, acquired tracts in the western section of the refuge.