The final day for public comment in Alaska regarding potential exploration in a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was held on Monday at the Dena'ina Center in downtown Anchorage.

"We're following the dictate congress put into law," Acting State Director for the Bureau of Land Management Ted Murphy said. "Which is to conduct lease sales in the 1002 area."

The Bureau of Land Management released a draft environmental impact statement in December for potential oil and gas development for the coastal plain oil and gas leasing program in ANWR.

It is the next step to implement an oil and gas leasing program under the Tax Act, which mandates the Secretary of the Interior establish a development program of the coastal plain. The point of public comment hearings is to get feedback that will help with a decision on one of four final alternatives
 

The alternatives address the public’s concerns, particularly comments expressed during the formal scoping period, as well as those raised through consultation with tribes, Native corporations and cooperating agencies, according to the draft environmental impact statement.

"The alternatives respond to the purpose and need for action, including the legislative requirement to establish and administer a competitive oil and gas program in the Coastal Plain in the Arctic Refuge," the draft environmental impact statement said.

"We do not have a preferred alternative," Murphy said. "Normally there is one, but in this case we don't have one. We're looking for feedback on each of the alternatives. What's good, what's bad, what do people want to see more of or less of."

At Monday's final public comment in Alaska, pleas to preserve the land, animals and the people who live in the area were front and center in the voices of those who oppose the exploration and drilling in the ANWR.

"We can see the changes that are happening with our own eyes," Sarah Maupin, a concerned commenter, said. "It is more different today to hunt for our food than it has ever been. Our old ice has melted. When we are pulling whale up on the ice after hunting it is cracking and breaking and people are dying."

"We stand with the Gwich’in," Enei Peter, another commenter, said. "They depend on that caribou and the clean water. We heard the people in the Kaktovik area say they were worried about their berry picking areas."

The Gwich’in rely on the Porcupine caribou herd for food and cultural and spiritual purposes. The herd migrates to the ANWR coastal plain every year to use it as a birthing ground. 

Despite the opposition, many in the region believe responsible development is possible and necessary. In a news release on Monday, The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which is owned by and represents the business interests of the Arctic Slope Inupiat, said responsible development is key to economic well-being of the region.

"Kaktovik is the only community that lives in the 1002 area," Richard Glenn with ASRC said. "What does this mean? It means we have the greatest at stake when it comes to the treatment of these lands. That's why we support a very robust EIS process."

There will be a final public comment Wednesday in Washington, D.C. People may still submit any suggestions, concerns or actions online.

The first lease sale will be held after the final EIS and record of decision are issued, the BLM said.

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