Drilling Alaska; Undermining the US

“On the evidence of its environmental policies to date [the Bush] administration is not merely pro-business: it actually appears to hold a grudge against the natural world.”

The Guardian, London

The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s motto commits the agency “to conserve, enhance, and protect wild things in the last frontier,” but that wasn’t enough to conserve, enhance and protect the truth from the new denizens of the White House.

A few days before the advent of the Bush administration, the USFWS “scrubbed” its website to remove “anything that would be counter to the new [pro-oil Republican] policy.”

A 1987 summary of the environmental impacts of oil drilling on the 19.2-million-acre Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was erased. References to the negative impacts of oil exploration were diluted or dumped. A list of seven damaging impacts was edited and two items were stricken completely – including a warning that extracting water to build “ice roads” and drilling pads could kill “overwintering fish and aquatic invertebrates.”

In mid-April, a map showing potential drilling sites in ANWR was expunged and the USFWS website was stripped of material documenting the impact of mineral extraction.

The USFWS website wasn’t the only one being scoured. On March 7, Ian Thomas, an award-winning US Geological Survey (USGS) mapmaker, posted several maps on the agency’s website, including a postcard-sized graphic showing the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou on the coastal plains of ANWR. The calving site just happened to intersect with Area 1002, the patch of land that the Bush administration wants to hand over to the oil industry. [See: http://www.cariboutrek.org]

That same day, Interior Secretary Gale Norton was being privately briefed that oil drilling on ANWR’s coastal plain could lower caribou calf survival averages “about 14 percent.” Although Area 1002 covers only eight percent of the ANWR, Norton was told, “it is an important component of the biological integrity for the entire refuge.”

The experts briefing Norton knew this, but the map made the point “in public.” One of the participants emailed a warning to Thomas to delete the map. It was too late. When Thomas came to work Monday morning, he discovered that he had been terminated.

“You don’t have to burn books now,” Thomas observed ruefully. “You just press the delete key.”

Thomas wrote a letter in his own defense and emailed it to some friends. Within hours, it had reached the Internet and was circulated around the world. An edited version of the letter appears in this edition of the Earth Island Journal [See “I Was Fired for Posting a Map”, this issue of EIJ].

Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Subscribe Now

For $15 you can get four issues of the magazine, a 50 percent savings off the newsstand rate.