Trump administration rushes to wrap Arctic oil leases on last day in office

Trump administration rushes to wrap Arctic oil leases on last day in office
© US Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images

The Trump administration on its final full day in office finalized lease sales to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), completing the process at a speed critics say is “absolutely unprecedented.” 

The sale, held less than two weeks ago, is typically followed by a months-long process to vet companies and secure payment. 

“In the past, this process has taken at least 60 days. So, what has the Trump administration done and what corners have they cut to get a two-month process done in two weeks?” asked Jenny Rowland-Shea, a senior public lands policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.


Lease sales in the Arctic generated just over $14 million, a figure is far below the billion dollars the 2017 tax bill projected the government would earn alongside a second sale. 

Just two tracts of land received bids from oil companies, while seven were purchased by Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), the state of Alaska’s economic development wing. 

Leases to drill on public land require an antitrust review by the Department of Justice as well as a review by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM.)

But Rowland-Shea said it would be reasonable to expect that process to take even longer this time given that the main purchaser, AIDEA, is not an oil company.

“These leases reflect a solid commitment by both the state and industry to pursue responsible oil and gas development on Alaska’s North Slope in light of recent assessments,” BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said in a release. 

“While any further actions on the ground will require additional environmental analysis, this is a hallmark step and a clear indication that Alaska remains important to meeting the nation’s energy needs.”

Environmental groups have already challenged the environmental review process leading up to the sale.

“This lease sale isn’t legitimate and won’t stand. It was based on an illegal environmental review, faulty revenue projections and sidelined science. We look forward to President-elect Biden stopping the liquidation of this national treasure and restoring protections for its iconic wildlife, wilderness and the Indigenous peoples who depend on it,” Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement.