US holds first lease sale for Alaska's Arctic refuge

James Marshall
January 9, 2021

Gleason's decision Tuesday came in three lawsuits filed this fall by an array of groups, including environmental organizations and the Gwich'in Steering Committee.In court documents, the groups argue that the federal government failed to follow numerous laws meant to protect wildlife, land, water and people when it crafted its oil-leasing program for the refuge.

US President Donald Trump's administration auctioned off 11 oil leases in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday, in a last-ditch move to expand drilling in the areas coveted by some petroleum producers before he leaves office.

"The Trump administration is barrelling forward without doing the careful, legally required analyses of the impacts such activity will have on the environment or the Gwich'in people who have relied on this land for millennia", said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, who had sought an injunction against the sale.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management will offer drilling rights to most of the refuge's almost 1.6 million-acre coastal plain, which attracts hundreds of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl each year and provides critical habitat for the Southern Beaufort Sea's remaining polar bears.

Kara Moriarty, head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, told NPR that the sale results weren't as "robust" as expected. But she said she would consider a future request from the conservation groups to stop it, once it is approved.

The American Petroleum Institute, the top USA oil and gas trade group, issued a statement citing weaker fuel demand during the coronavirus pandemic and potential federal policy changes for "continued uncertainty" surrounding investment decisions.

The bill opened the coastal plain to drilling after decades of debate and ordered two lease sales, with the revenue aimed at offsetting massive tax cuts.

Despite the lack of industry interest, Alaska's Congressional delegation applauded the sale on Wednesday, and so did officials with the Bureau of Land Management, describing it as historic and a success. But the incoming administration of president-elect Joe Biden could overturn this requirement, especially with Democrats now having control of the Senate.

"Why would I go and put a whole bunch of money into an area that is likely to be subjected to a whole bunch of court challenges and some very bad press and rightfully so?" Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which is working to develop the proposed Pebble Mine, last month said it would appeal the decision.

The lease sale had been promoted by the Trump administration.

'Companies knew they would face incredible opposition to drilling, ' said Malkolm Boothroyd, campaign coordinator for CPAWS Yukon.

While the Arctic Refuge has faced development pressure throughout its 40-year existence, it hasn't confronted a more intensely perilous week than this one. She was appointed by former President Barack Obama.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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