Update: Wednesday, Nov. 20—The House approved a bill Wednesday aimed at speeding up drilling for oil and natural gas. Another bill that won approval later in the day would restrict the Interior Department from enforcing proposed rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands.
Another bill expected to win approval later Wednesday would restrict the Interior Department from enforcing proposed rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands.
Fresh new assaults on wilderness and wildlife are hitting the floor of the House of Representatives this week. Fracking on federal lands, attempts to force drilling across western states and an attack on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are all up for vote, beginning Nov. 19.
Together, these new bills form a perfect storm of bad drilling legislation. Among the many provisions being put to a vote are several that threaten Alaska's fragile wildlands and others that aim to prioritize drilling on our public lands above all other considerations.
Here's what these bad energy bills have in store if passed:
Drilling in sensitive areas of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska
One provision aims to reverse the popular decision to protect more than 11 million acres of wildlife habitat within the site and jeopardizing up to one third of high-value caribou calving habitat . This management plan (which also set aside more than 70 percent of the recoverable oil in the area) was drawn up by the Department of Interior last year, and relied on sound science and research to determine the best course of action for the Reserve and the people and wildlife that depend on it.
Seismic testing in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
If these bad energy bills become law, the Arctic Refuge's Coastal Plain would be subjected to extensive seismic exploration. The Coastal Plain is where hundreds of thousands of caribou give birth to their calves, and is considered by many to be the biological heart of the Refuge.
All BLM lands essentially opened for drilling
One bill would undo the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) leasing reforms. These reforms have successfully guided oil and gas drilling away from important wildlands. This legislation would essentially designate all BLM lands for drilling—not for hiking and biking trails, hunting lands, ranchers’ grazing lands or any other purpose.
Fracking free-for-all unleashed on lands owned by Americans
The last bill up for review in the house this week aims to surgically remove federal oversight of fracking on federal lands (lands that are owned by all Americans), and hand regulatory authority over to the states. This regulatory switcheroo would strip away key laws that are set in place to protect both communities and wildlands beyond state lines.
The Wilderness Society’s Arctic Program Director, Lois Epstein, testified against this bill before Congress, saying the bill “is indifferent to how well state programs protect surface and groundwater, wildlife habitat and the public.”
At the end of the day, these bad energy bills amount to little more than giveaways to the oil and gas industry, and come at a time when America is producing more oil than any other country in the world. What America’s wilderness needs isn’t a drilling bonanza—it's a balanced approach to energy and conservation, and these bills are anything but.