ANWR update shows impact of Native drilling
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GRAPHIC: Map of undeformed and Native areas in ANWR. Source: U.S.G.S.
Reversing findings made by government scientists a week earlier, the Department of Interior has concluded that drilling in a limited part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will not greatly affect a caribou herd at the center of the controversial debate.

In a short, supplemental analysis made public yesterday, U.S. Geological Survey Director Charles Groat said evaluation of two new development scenarios yielded different impacts on the environment. Specifically, a government scientist found the Porcupine caribou herd would not be significantly impacted should oil and gas drilling be limited to a 2,000 acre footprint in what is called the "undeformed area" (see map) of ANWR's coastal plain.

But when lands owned by Inupiat Eskimos are considered, the results changed. In a memo dated April 4, Brad Griffith of the Alaska Science Center said the caribou would be twice as likely to be displaced and calf survival rate would drop by nearly a factor of two if development on Native property is added into the mix.

Still, the new findings support claims by the Bush administration and Inupiat Eskimos who say drilling can occur in an environmentally sound manner. If development were to occur on either the undeformed or Native areas alone, the effects would not be as great under models previously considered by government scientists.

Those original findings were quickly dismissed by the White House and department officials as Secretary Gale Norton's political aides called for a new assessment. Environmentalists and their allies in the Senate, on the other hand, rejoiced when the research summaries were released March 29.

The seemingly conflicting reports will be the subject of debate as the Senate returns to work today after its spring recess. A long-stalled energy bill is on the agenda as Republicans and Democrats fight over the inclusion of a drilling provision, which the House passed last summer.

Despite the differences, one clear finding emerged from the seven scenarios considered by government scientists. The larger the development area, the greater the impact on the Porcupine caribou, which has the lowest birth rate of herds in Alaska, and its survival.

Also, two development environments dismissed by an Interior official as "science fiction" would actually be less intrusive than one of the new models. The inclusion of lands owned by Inupiat Eskimos increases the risk of calf death, according to the memo.

Arctic Slope Regional Corp., an Alaska Native regional corporation, and Kaktovik Inupiat Corp., a village corporation, own surface and subsurface rights to 92,000 acres within ANWR's coastal plain. Under an agreement brokered by former Secretary James Watt, the Inupiats accepted the land with the limitation that Congress had to approve any exploration or development.

The land is held in fee simple, non-trust status.

Related USGS Documents:
USGS Memo (4/5) | USGS Evaluation Page 1 (4/4) | USGS Evaluation Page 2 (4/4) | Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain Terrestrial Wildlife Research Summaries (3/29)

Relevant Links:
Arctic Slope Regional Corp -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pro-Development site -

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