Interior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report

Interior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report
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The Interior Department is commissioning a fast-tracked study that will look at how a controversial plan to initiate oil and gas drilling in the Arctic could impact the environment.

The April 2018 contract signed between Interior and Colorado based Environmental Management and Planning Solutions, Inc, first reported on Thursday by The Washington Post, orders a nearly one year review of the impact of energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The more than $1.6 million dollar study aims to provide the department with answers as to how much drilling in the protected habitat will affect nearby species and water sources.

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The document, released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Center for American Progress, shows a timeline that includes three months to conduct a scoping report on the impact of energy exploration in the region and a finalized lease sale notice to drillers by next summer. 

Interior's contract follows the direction of a law passed last December that directed the agency to conduct two separate oil an gas lease sales in the coastal plain of ANWR by December 2024, ending more than four decades of heated debate on the matter.

"After decades and decades in this chamber, we are opening up a small non-wilderness area of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for responsible development. That is the most ambitious step we have taken in years to secure our own energy future,” House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanKrystal Ball: GOP tax cut is 'opiate of the massively privileged' Top GOP lawmaker: Tax cuts will lower projected deficit GOP super PAC seizes on Ellison abuse allegations in ads targeting Dems MORE said at the time.

Most congressional Republicans hailed the idea of expanded drilling as a way to increase U.S. profits from royalty rates. The Interior Department under Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeSanders tests his brand in Florida Overnight Energy: Court orders EPA to enforce chemical safety rule | Dem says Zinke would 'sell' his grandkids for the oil industry | EPA reportedly poised to unveil climate rule replacement Washington governor says Zinke would 'sell his grandchildren for the oil industry' MORE has also championed increased oil and gas exploration, including a plan to expand offshore drilling, as a way to generate funding for a major construction backlog on National Park lands.

Environmentalist, however, have strongly opposed drilling in the arctic refugee, arguing that even oil exploration could harm species such as polar bears and caribou living on the nearly 19 million acre refuge.

Interior's review is perhaps most notable for the seemingly compressed timeline.

Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional director Geoffrey Haskett told the Post that such reviews on average take two to three years to conduct.

“The idea of imposing an arbitrary deadline like this is just horrific to me,” said Haskett. “I think they’re going to make mistakes because they’re moving so fast. They’re certainly not going to get much input on this.”

The Interior Department did not return a request for comment.