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BLM Releases Draft EIS for Potential ANWR Oil, Gas Leasing Program

One year to the day after Congress passed a comprehensive tax reform bill that included a controversial provision to open a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas leasing, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for a leasing program.

BLM said the DEIS is the next step toward opening part of Alaska's coastal plain, aka the 1002 Area, to oil and gas development. The bureau added that a 45-day public comment period on the draft will begin once the Environmental Protection Agency publishes a notice of availability in the Federal Register on Dec. 28, and that it will accept comments through Feb. 11.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who is said to be on the short list of candidates to lead the department following the departure of embattled chief Ryan Zinke at year's end, said the DEIS "reflects thousands of hours of work that demonstrate a commitment to the development of these documents and the range of alternatives. We look forward to a very robust public comment period to better inform our final decision."

BLM announced plans for the DEIS last April. Under the tax law provision, BLM must conduct at least two lease sales by December 2024. Each sale must have at least 400,000 acres available for lease. The 1002 Area covers 1.5 million acres, while ANWR covers 19 million acres in total. The bureau said Thursday that the first lease sale will be held after a final environmental impact statement and a record of decision.

BLM said it would hold public hearings in Anchorage, Arctic Village, Fairbanks, Kaktovik, Fort Yukon, Venetie and Utqiagvik, AK, as well as Washington, DC.

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