In response to the Post report, Reilly sent an email to his staff the next day, saying his decision to delay was justified because he wanted to be “satisfied” with its underlying science before making it public.
The study, which had been obtained by The Post last month, notes that shrinking sea ice in the Arctic threatens the survival of polar bears while enhancing the opportunity for fossil fuel exploration there. “The long-term persistence of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) is threatened by sea-ice loss due to climate change, which is concurrently providing an opportunity in the Arctic for increased anthropogenic activities including natural resource extraction,” it said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had been seeking the report’s release for at least three months, according to several individuals briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The agency is legally required to cite the U.S. Geological Survey study before it can determine whether drilling can proceed on ConocoPhillips’ $3 billion Willow Project on Alaska’s North Slope without causing too much harm to the region’s polar bears, which are protected by federal law.
The analysis also finds that 34 percent of the western U.S. Arctic’s maternal dens are on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has implications for the Trump administration’s plans to auction oil and gas leases on the refuge. That is the same area the Interior Department approved for leasing in August, which has been off limits to drilling for four decades.
In an email to agency employees Thursday, Reilly confirmed that he had held up the study’s release but said it was wrong to suggest he did it “solely to benefit the oil and gas industry.”
“It is, however, an influential paper, and it will