Incomplete Polar Bear Survey Halts Oil Search

Federal officials said the missed deadline makes future work on the project unlikely.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska Native corporation that was hoping to receive a federal permit to look for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge did not complete aerial surveys for polar bears on time, officials said.

The U.S. Interior Department said the missed deadline makes future work on the project unlikely, the Anchorage Daily News reported Monday.

Katkovik Inupiat Corp. had applied with the Bureau of Land Management for permission to conduct a seismic survey in the refuge this winter.

Large trucks crisscrossing the frozen tundra would have generated seismic waves to map underground rock formations that might hold oil.

The corporation failed to take steps to receive a related authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for incidental harassment involving threatened polar bears, Interior Department spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said in an emailed statement Monday.

The company, which is the Alaska Native corporation for the only village in the refuge, confirmed it had not conducted three aerial surveys to detect polar bear dens as required by Feb. 13.

The corporation was subsequently informed Saturday its request is “no longer actionable,” Schwartz said.

Corporation officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Democratic President Joe Biden opposes drilling in the refuge and his administration moved swiftly to delay oil and gas activity in the refuge approved by the Republican-led Congress in 2017.

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 January that attracted little interest.

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

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