The Trump administration on Monday finalized a plan to allow oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, putting it on track to issue decades-long leases in the pristine wilderness area before a potential change in U.S. leadership.
The Interior Department could hold a sale of oil and gas leases in ANWR by the end of the year, Secretary David Bernhardt said on a conference call with reporters.
A Republican-passed tax bill in 2017 opened the area to oil and gas leasing, a key pillar of U.S. President Donald Trump’s agenda to expand fossil fuel production. However, lease sales in the state have been weak for most of the last decade, and statewide production has dropped steadily for the past 30 years.
If found, oil production could begin in ANWR in about eight years, Bernhardt said, with activity lasting about 50 years.
The 19 million acre (7.7 million hectares) refuge is home to wildlife populations including Porcupine caribou and polar bears and has been off-limits to drilling for decades. In recent months, several big U.S. banks have said recently they will not finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic region.
ANWR has been tested only once for the potential to extract fossil fuels. Bernhardt said companies would bid on leases despite a lack of seismic testing that is a precursor to drilling. A year-end sale could thwart subsequent efforts by a potential Democratic administration in 2021 to stop drilling in ANWR.
Polls show the incumbent Republican Trump trailing challenger Biden, a Democrat. In a statement, Biden campaign spokesman Matt Hill said that if elected, the former vice president would permanently protect ANWR.
Environmental group Earthjustice quickly promised to launch a legal challenge.
The tRump administration and the oil companies are desperate to get this done before the election. They see that tRump is in trouble and may lose and they need to lock these leases in before a Democratic president can stop the sale and protect the pristine area. Also the oil production from areas that are open for drilling has fallen and so has the revenue given out by the state. So the Republicans hope this will signal to the cult that more drilling will give them a bigger yearly state check, even though drilling won’t happen right away. More smoke and mirrors from the tRump administration. Hugs