The new surveys would cover a smaller portion of the coastal plain and therefore pose less of a risk to the greater Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population that dens there during winter months. According to the DOI employee who reviewed the application, the 92,000 acres in question are primarily those owned by the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation. The subsurface rights belong to the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, one of the largest private landowners in Alaska. Neither company provided comment.
Critics said the expedited effort by the Trump administration was driven by concerns about the November election.
“More than anything else this is a mad rush to create new facts on the ground before a potential change in presidential power,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, which opposes development in the refuge.
In order to conduct seismic surveys on the North Slope, companies must apply for permits to ensure that protected species like polar bears will not be harmed. This analysis, done by the Fish and Wildlife Service, typically takes between six to 12 months, sometimes longer. Now the agency is being asked to issue the permit in three to four months.
Once the permit has been finalized, it is released for a 30-day public comment period.
The new application is being submitted by the same entities that were involved in the previous effort, including SAExploration, a Houston-based seismic operator that recently filed for bankruptcy after an SEC investigation found that the company had misled investors. Last month Jeff Hastings, the company’s former chair and CEO who was ousted last year, was arrested in Anchorage on charges that he sought to deceive investors by inflating its revenues. ASRC is also involved in the permit application.