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 planoutlining 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