Trump admin opens bids for ANWR drilling


The Trump administration on Nov. 16 announced formal proceedings to sell oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Alaska State Office issued a call for “nominations” on several lease tracts considered for the upcoming Coastal Plain Oil & Gas Lease Sale, covering approximately 1.5 million acres of the refuge along the coast of the Arctic Ocean. The notice launches the beginning of a 30-day public comment period before the agency moves forward with lease sales.

Established in 1960, ANWR is one of the largest remaining expanses of protected wilderness in the US, covering over 19 million acres of land and waters in northeastern Alaska. It is under the management of the US Fish & Wildlife Service as the largest unit within the National Wildlife Refuge System. The majority of the land remains untouched by humans. Rather, ANWR’s coastal plain is home to polar bears, muskoxen, grey wolves, migrating waterfowl, and caribou calving grounds held sacred by the Gwich’in and Inupiat peoples.

The announcement comes after US Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt released a plan outlining the agency’s steps for issuing ANWR drilling permits. Bernhardt’s August 2020 announcement was met with both praise from Alaskan officials and criticism from environmental organizations.

In 2014 President Barack Obama proposed new protections for ANWR, declaring an additional 5 million acres of land to be designated “wilderness,” making them permanently off-limits to oil and gas drilling and other commercial development. But in 2017, after decades of protection, the Republican-controlled Congress drafted legislation to open the reserve’s so-called 1002 Area to drilling. The legislation passed as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump.

According to the new announcement, the earliest lease sales could begin by Jan. 17, 2021. They will likely be subject to legal challenges, or reversal by the incoming Biden administration. President-elect Joe Biden’s differing approach to public land management includes “permanently protecting” ANWR and “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.”

From Jurist, Nov. 18. Used with permission.

Photo: USGS via Flickr

  1. Biden halts drilling in Arctic refuge

    President Joe Biden put a hold on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic just hours after being inaugurated. He signed an executive order Jan. 20 placing a temporary moratorium on all federal activities related to oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Just the day before, nine leases had been signed by the Trump administration, well ahead of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s 2024 deadline mndating two lease sales in the refuge.

    Biden’s order raises questions about the permitting process for the leases, noting “alleged legal deficiencies underlying the program, including the inadequacy of the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act…” (Indian Country Today)

  2. Biden admin suspends ANWR oil leases

    The US Interior Department said June 1 that it will suspend controversial oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that were issued in the final days of the Trump administration. The agency is to conduct a “comprehensive” environmental analysis of the leasing program in the refuge, which Congress approved in 2017 at the urging of Alaska’s congressional delegation after decades of failed attempts.

    “The department is notifying lessees that it is suspending oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge, pending the review, to determine whether the leases should be reaffirmed, voided, or subject to additional mitigation measures,” Interior said in a statement. (Anchorage Daily News)