Story at a glance

  • Lands within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are anticipated to go up for lease sales following the Trump administration allowing drilling access for oil and gas companies.
  • The lands have been protected by President Dwight D. Eisenhower since 1960 and were officially declared a refuge by Congress in 1980.

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to make the most of its final months in office before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, formalizing plans to offer parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) up for leasing contracts for oil and gas drilling.

Originally reported by Bloomberg, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Alaska State Office will be handling all inquiries and comments on land allocated for leasing for the upcoming Coastal Plain oil and gas lease sale. 

Per the preliminary requests for nominations, which is set to be published on Nov. 17, the BLM intends to work in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, keeping certain proprietary company information confidential but making comments on the sale available to the public. 

The Coastal Plain of the ANWR, at the northeastern part of the state, was officially approved for drilling operations by the Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt back in August, despite pushback from environmental advocates and Democratic lawmakers. 

Major banks also took a stand against drilling operations in the area, with firms like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo declaring they will not help finance projects involving oil drilling. 


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Regardless, 31 tracts of land, composing more than 1.5 million acres of Coastal Plain territory, will be available for leasing. The Coastal Plain is expected to be oil-rich, with estimates reporting about 4.25 to 11.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil within the territory.

Interest has been generated in drilling operations, however, with American Petroleum Institute's Frank Macchiarola telling The Washington Post that many Alaskans support drilling efforts, despite the fact that the Trump administration is “under a tight timeline” to auction off leases.

“Our view is that Congress has acted,” Macchiarola told reporters. “Production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a long time coming. It’s overdue, and it’s important to our nation’s energy security.”

The U.S. Department of Interior notes that the entire oil program area will be made available to oil and gas companies pursuant to the Record of Decision that approved drilling operations along the Coastal Plain. 

Environmentalists say this is detrimental news for the native flora and fauna that inhabit the area, including black, brown and polar bears, caribou, arctic foxes, 200 species of migratory birds, moose, muskoxen and more. 

The Refuge is also the ancestral home of the indigenous Gwitch’in people. 

Financially, the plan aims to generate $1 billion to $1.8 billion in revenue, but calculations done by the Center for American Progress estimates that the federal government would receive around $37.5 million from drilling leases, assuming an acre is sold for $50.  

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the Department of the Interior by environmental advocacy groups, and many activists see President-elect Biden’s victory as a corresponding win to halt drilling efforts.

“We are especially energized by the President-elect’s campaign commitment to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a promise two-thirds of Americans support including large majorities of independents, suburban women, Latinos and Black voters,” Adan Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement.

Published on Nov 16, 2020