Just Two Small Drillers and the State of Alaska Bid for Drilling Rights in Pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Only two small companies and the state of Alaska bid on leases to drill for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wednesday after a federal judge appointed by Barack Obama cleared the way for the sale.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state-owned economic development corporation, was the only bidder on nine parcels in part of the refuge known as the coastal plain. The land is part of the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd.
“This last-ditch effort to open the Arctic Refuge has about as much chance of success as Trump’s crazed campaign to invalidate the electoral college results,” said Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Trump’s Bureau of Land Management pulled about a third of the tracts that were supposed to be leased on Dec. 18, three days before bidding was to start, because of low interest. Alaska didn’t decide to try to buy the oil leases until Dec. 23 and submitted the lowest possible bid at $25 an acre.
The Biden administration could try to invalidate the leases under a 1996 law, the Congressional Review Act, which lets rules approved late in an outgoing president’s term to be overturned by a simple vote of the House and Senate if the president concurs. Biden has pledged to reverse Trump’s attacks on the refuge.
Trump’s Bureau of Land Management scheduled the lease sale in December.
The refuge, created in 1980, is sometimes called “America’s Serengeti.” Caribou and polar bears live on its 19.6 million acres, and birds migrate to and from six continents and through all 50 states. The Gwich’in people refer to the calving grounds on the coastal plain as the sacred place where life begins.
Oil and gas production was prohibited on the coastal plain for almost four decades.
Congress ended that ban in 2017 as part of Team Trump’s tax act. The drilling provisions were touted as a way to bring in $1 billion in revenue to offset new federal tax cuts. The lease sale, snubbed by all the major oil companies, brought in a paltry $14.4 million in bids.
The sale was conducted after federal Judge Sharon Gleason declined to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent it, writing the environmental organizations and other plaintiffs in lawsuits about the drilling had not established the likelihood of irreparable injury.
Featured image: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Art Wolfe/Alaska Conservation Foundation)