Alaska senator: Arctic refuge drilling sale could start next year

Alaska senator: Arctic refuge drilling sale could start next year
© Greg Nash

Trump administration officials may be able to hold the first auction for oil and natural gas drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) next year, Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanRepublicans defend McCain amid Trump attacks Overnight Defense: Senate rejects border emergency in rebuke to Trump | Acting Pentagon chief grilled on wall funding | Warren confronts chief over war fund budget Pentagon chief calls reports of charges to allies erroneous: 'We won't do cost plus 50' MORE (R-Alaska) said Monday.

Speaking at CERAWeek, a major oil industry conference in Houston, Sullivan said he thinks the Interior Department could beat the 2021 deadline for a lease sale that was set out in last year’s GOP tax bill, though the agency has not committed to a timeline.

“It’s my hope, and this is a very aggressive timeline, that we would have the first lease sale ... to be sometime in 2019,” Sullivan told the audience.

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Sullivan said Interior officials are currently in Alaska laying the groundwork for eventual drilling in the Coastal Plain area of ANWR.

He encouraged oil industry officials there to bid in the lease sales.

The tax overhaul last year opened ANWR for drilling, settling a 40-year debate over whether to drill in the refuge. It had been a priority of Alaska leaders and some Republicans for decades.

Interior must, under the tax law, hold a lease sale by 2021 and another by 2024, with at least 400,000 acres available each time.

Environmentalists have fought continuously against ANWR drilling proposals, and they plan to object at every step of the process, including over setting up sales and obtaining permits.