US Government Official Blocked Polar Bear Research That Could Threaten Alaska Drilling Projects

The proposed drilling project spells bad news for denning polar bears. AndreAnita/Shutterstock

Leaked internal documents reported on by the Washington Post has revealed that under the Trump Administration, an internal department of the United States government has refused to publish federal research that could threaten plans to drill in Alaska. The study revealed that oil and gas drilling in the proposed site in Alaska puts polar bears at risk, but US Geological Survey Director James Reilly, the head of the department that conducted the research, failed to publish the findings.

The area of concern is on Alaska’s North Slope close to the Beaufort Sea, which is in the process of being made available for oil and gas drilling. The Post revealed they had obtained internal communications regarding research into nesting polar bears in this same area, which had not been released for publication even though the study had been complete for three months. It’s reported that Reilly delayed the research from seeing the light of day over concerns regarding methodology and the contributions of a former agency scientist who now works for Polar Bears International (PBI), a non-profit polar bear conservation organization.

The study obtained by the Post is also said to concern the significant impact of shrinking sea ice in the Arctic on polar bear populations, as it found that none of the cubs born in summer 2012 survived, which was the year the region saw its lowest sea ice volume on record. It also found that denning polar bears could be adversely affected by the noise and disruption involved in harvesting materials such as gas and oil and can even be run over or displaced as heavy machinery turns over the landscape. PBI recently published their own research regarding the impact of such extraction operations on denning polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the leasing project for drilling is to go ahead. 

In a year where it was announced that polar bears could go extinct by 2050, the introduction of such disruptive projects to their diminishing habitat dampens an already dwindling population’s chances of rebounding. This information would likely be harmful to the department’s plans to sell leases on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, which raises concerning questions as to the motivations for withholding the results of the study.

“Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears are already suffering from low survival rates of young bears and ongoing habitat loss, and scientific studies have shown that additional negative impacts on denning polar bears could reduce the ability of the subpopulation to recover,” said Elisabeth Kruger, manager of the Arctic wildlife program at the World Wildlife Fund, in an email to Gizmodo. “Instead of adding new pressures to this population, now is the time to take strong, precautionary action to give the bears the best chance to adapt to their changing environment.”

[H/T: Washington Post

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