US Department of the Interior Cancels Oil and Gas Leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Implications for Conservation and Climate Change

2023-09-06 16:57:03

The US Department of the Interior said Wednesday it would cancel oil and gas leases at a federal wildlife refuge that were purchased by an Alaska state development agency in the final days of the administration. former President Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump’s Republican administration granted the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) seven leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a day before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, a Democrat who had committed to protecting 19.6 million acres (7.7 million hectares) of habitat for polar bears and caribou.

Environmental groups hailed the move, while a Republican senator from Alaska criticized it. AIDEA officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Department of the Interior also said it would protect 13 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, a 23 million acre area on the state’s North Slope that is the largest public land. undisturbed from the United States. The agency would ban new rentals on more than 10 million acres, or more than 40% of the reservation.

The measures are Biden’s latest effort to limit oil and gas activity on public lands, as part of a broader climate change agenda. Mr. Biden, who is preparing to run in the 2024 election, possibly against Mr. Trump, also faces pressure to increase national fuel reserves to keep pump prices low. Earlier this year, the Interior Department approved a $7 billion ConocoPhillips drilling project in Alaska, prompting criticism from the United Nations, which urged member countries to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels.

In a statement, the Home Office said a new environmental review determined that the analysis underlying the agency’s 2021 lease sale was “seriously flawed”, giving Secretary Deb Haaland authority to cancel leases.

“With climate change warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the planet, we must do everything in our power to meet the highest standards in protecting this fragile ecosystem,” said Ms. Haaland in a press release.

In January 2021, Donald Trump’s Home Office sold claims in ANWR over objections from conservationists and Indigenous groups. In 2017, a tax law passed by Republicans opened the area up to oil and gas leasing and directed the Interior to hold two lease sales by December 2024.

The oil and gas industry did not welcome the 2021 lease sale, which only generated $14 million in high bids, mostly from AIDEA.

Several months after ANWR’s first and only lease sale, Mr Biden’s administration said it would suspend the leases awarded pending an environmental assessment. AIDEA then filed a lawsuit, and last month an Alaska federal judge dismissed the state agency’s complaints, ruling that the government’s delay in implementing the allocation of the ANWR leases was reasonable.

The other two entities that obtained leases from the ANWR sale withdrew in 2022.

Environmental groups hailed the interior ministry’s decision.

We commend Secretary Haaland for canceling the illegally issued oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge, Abigail Dillen, president of the environmental group Earthjustice, said in a statement. We hope that the protection of the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic will be as strong as possible in the years to come.

For decades, Alaskan officials have pushed to open up drilling in ANWR to secure jobs and revenue for the state. Dan Sullivan, senator from Alaska, criticized the Interior Department’s decision.

“The anger and frustration of Alaskans is palpable at the Biden administration’s relentless attack on our economy and our ability to legally access our lands,” the Republican senator said in an emailed statement. .

Alaska’s oil production has declined over the past three decades. The state currently produces less than 500,000 barrels of crude a day, down from more than 2 million barrels a day in 1988, according to government figures. (Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Washington and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Writing by Chizu Nomiyama, David Gregorio and Mark Porter)

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