Biden administration to cancel oil and gas leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Biden administration to cancel oil and gas leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Interior Department will suspend several oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Tuesday, according to three individuals briefed on the decision, overturning one of Donald Trump’s most significant environmental acts during his last days in office.

The move, which could spark a major legal battle, aims to unwind nearly a dozen leases in the heart of a pristine expanse in Alaska that Republicans and Democrats have fought over for four decades. The Trump administration auctioned off the right to drill in the refuge’s coastal plain — home to hundreds of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl as well as the Southern Beaufort Sea’s remaining polar bears —just two weeks before President Biden was inaugurated.

Several individuals briefed on the Biden administration’s decision, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it had not been formally announced yet, said Interior would halt the leases on the grounds that Trump officials rushed the Jan. 6 auction and did not follow proper procedures.

The step, I'm ing just days after the Justice Department defended another drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, underscores the balancing act the new administration aims to strike as it slows fossil fuel development on public lands. While President Biden has paused new federal oil and gas leasing and pledged to drastically cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, he has taken a much more cautious approach toward most oil and gas operations approved under his predecessor.

On Wednesday, DOJ attorneys filed a brief defending ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project, an oil reservoir on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that could hold up to 300 million barrels of oil. The administration has also defended the Trump administration’s decision to issue oil and gas leases in Wyoming and declined to press for the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project Interior Secretary Deb Haaland protested while serving in Congress.

But Tuesday’s move signaled that the new administration was willing to take aggressive action in an area that has been a rallying cry for environmentalist for decades.

The January sale of 11 tracts in the refuge on just over 550,000 acres netted roughly $14 million, a tiny fraction of what Republicans initially predicted it would yield. Only two of the bids were competitive, so nearly all of the land sold for the minimum price of $25 an acre.

Many major banks in the U.S. and Canada, under pressure from indigenous and environmental activists, announced that they would not finance any projects on the refuge. Low oil prices, coupled with the prospect of a public backlash, meant that no major oil companies bid on the leases.

As a result, a state agency, Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, emerged as the main bidder. The agency put up all but two of the winning bids, which went to a couple of small energy firms.

Interior department officials declined to comment on Biden’s latest move.

Source: The Washington Post

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