Trump administration will move to sell oil rights in Arctic Refuge, in Late push


The sale of the lease may take place immediately before the opening day, after the fact, Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s administration will try to reverse him.


Trump administration will move to sell oil rights in Arctic Refuge, in Late push

    source: nytimes


The Trump administration announced Monday that it would begin the formal process of selling leases to oil companies at the last minute in order to meet its long-awaited goal of allowing oil and gas drilling at Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


That opens a potential lease sale just before the opening day on Jan. 20, with the new management of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who opposed the drilling at the shelter, trying to undo it after the sale.


"This lease sale is another box the Trump administration wants to tick for its allies in the oil industry," Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement. "But it is disappointing that this government paid so little attention to America's public areas or the wildlife and indigenous communities that depend on them until the end."


The Arctic Refuge is one of the last vast stretches of wilderness in the United States, 19 million acres largely untouched by humans, home to migrating herds of caribou, polar bears, and migratory waterfowl. 

It has long been valued and protected by environmentalists, but President Trump boasted that opening part of it to oil development was one of his most important efforts to expand domestic fossil fuel production.


The federal registry released a "call for nominations" from the Bureau of Land Management on Monday, to be officially released Tuesday, regarding lease sales on approximately 1.5 million acres of the refuge along the coast. of the Arctic Ocean. 

A call for proposals is essentially a call for oil companies to indicate which areas of land they would be interested in exploring and potential drilling for oil and gas.


The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, welcomed the move. In a statement, the organization said development at the shelter "is long overdue and will create high-paying jobs and new sources of income for the state, which is why the majority of Alaskans support it."



Management's announcement sets a tight schedule for the sale of leases, not before or around January 17. The call for proposals will allow comments until December 17, after which the office, which is part of the Interior Ministry, could issue a final notice of the sale 30 days later.


Typically, the office would take time to review the comments and determine which tracts to sell before publishing the final announcement. This process can take several months. In this case, however, the bureau could decide to make the entire coastal plain available and issue the notice immediately.


A Home Office spokesman, Conner Swanson, did not respond to any emailed questions at the time of the call for nominations, first reported by Bloomberg News. Swanson was only referring to a press release from the Bureau of Land Management announcing the move. 

In the press release, Alaska Office State Director Chad Padgett said the call for nominations "brings us one step closer to completing a historic first lease sale in Coastal Plain."


All sales would be reviewed by the Biden Administration, including the Bureau and the Department of Justice. This process can take a month or two. 

This could allow the White House in Biden to refuse to grant the leases, possibly claiming that the scientific basis for the plan to allow drilling at the refuge is flawed, as environmental groups have claimed.


In 2017, in a reversal of decades of protection, the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress opened up the coastal plain of refuge to potential oil and gas development.


The coastal plain is believed to be above geological formations that could contain billions of barrels of oil, although this assessment is based on data collected in the 1980s. To date, only one exploration well has been drilled in the shelter and a New York Times investigation found the results disappointing.


If the sale continues, it is unclear how much interest the oil companies will have in drilling the refuge. It would be at least a decade before oil was produced, and by then the need to move the world away from fossil fuels may have reduced its need. 

Oil production in the Arctic is also difficult and expensive. Businesses may decide that the effort is not worth it financially. They may also fear the potential impact on their reputation if they drill in such a pristine location.


In August, the Interior Ministry announced that it had accepted a final environmental review of the lease plan and was preparing to auction off the land. Interior Minister David Bernhardt said at the time that he believed the sales could be made before the end of the year.


Environmentalists and other opponents, including a group representing an Alaskan native tribe, the Gwich'in, who live near the refuge, filed lawsuits alleging that the Home Office had the impact of oil and gas developments on the change. climate. and the environment does not take proper account of wildlife.


The Gwich'in are particularly concerned about the impact on the porcupine caribou herds that roam this part of Alaska and neighboring areas of Canada that use the coastal plain for calving. 

The Gwich'in, who have spiritual ties to and depend on animals for food, say that even exploratory drilling and associated road construction and other activities could affect calving and ultimately the survival of the herd.


Others, including many scientists, are concerned about the survival of polar bears, which come ashore from their natural sea ice habitat when the ice melts and retreats north. The region's bear subpopulation is already among the most threatened in the world.


Scientists fear that even preliminary seismic exploration to get a better idea of ​​the oil reserves below the coastal plain could disrupt, injure or even kill bears and their cubs in winter caves when trucks and other heavy equipment pass over the tundra.


Recently, the Bureau of Land Management reactivated the plans for such a study. They were proposed by an Alaska Native Village Corporation, Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation, using a contractor, SAExploration, which was part of a similar proposal in 2018 that went nowhere.


If the office finally approves the plan, it could start later this year. Even if the survey continues, it won't be completed until long after the sale.


source: nytimes

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