The Trump government announced Thursday it will sell oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in early January, further accelerating its final efforts to allow drilling there.
The Office of Land Management said the sale would take place on January 6, after the sale announcement was published in the federal registry next Monday. This notice requires a 30-day comment period before the sale can take place.
The sale date was published only 16 days after the bureau issued a “nomination call” that allowed oil companies and others to detail which areas of the shelter were interested in drilling.
Normally, the call for nominations will allow at least 30 days for such responses, followed by several weeks of analysis by the Presidency to finally decide which applications will be offered. This time frame would have postponed the sale just days before or after the January 20 inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., who opposed drilling into the shelter.
The announcement, which came from the office’s Alaskan offices, did not mention why the schedule was speeded up. But the Trump administration made no secret of its desire to sell drilling rights in the shelter before it left office.
Environmental groups condemned the last-minute push.
“This is Donald Trump’s shameful attempt to give one last help to the fossil fuel industry on the doorstep at the expense of our public spaces and climate,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. resolution.
Once the sale has taken place, the office must review and approve the leases, a process that usually takes months. But holding the sale on January 6 would potentially give the office a chance to finalize the leases before the inauguration date. This would make it difficult to withdraw the Biden administration.
Environmental groups have said that is what Mr Biden is expected to do.
“President Biden ran into and was elected on the most aggressive pro-climate platform of all successful candidates in history, and made protecting the Arctic shelter a priority,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League resolution. “We will need to use all the means at its disposal to stop the industrialization of the iconic national treasure.”
A plan to sell the lease also launched a coalition of four environmental organizations, some Alaskan Indigenous groups, and in one case, 15 states. The lawsuits allege that the Trump administration made abbreviations in the leasing process and that the environmental review was deeply flawed.
The Arctic refuge is a vast expanse of virtually untouched wilderness that is almost touched by humans and is home to migratory caribou, polar bears and other wildlife. Of the 19 million hectares of shelter, rental sales would account for up to 1.5 million hectares on the northeast coast of Alaska. An environmental review completed earlier this year recommended that almost all of the 1.5 million hectares be offered for sale
The shelter has long been protected by environmentalists and congressional Democrats. But in 2017, when Republicans held both the White House and both houses of Congress, they approved the sale of oil and gas leases on the coastal plain as part of tax legislation.
President Trump said the opening of part of the shelter to oil development was the most significant effort to expand domestic production of fossil fuels.
The coastal plain presumably covers the last remaining significant oil reserves in the United States and could potentially lead to billions of barrels of oil. But this assessment is decades-long and relies largely on studies that have already used outdated technology to detect petroleum deposits underground.
In the 1980s, an exploratory well was drilled into the shelter, and an investigation by the New York Times found the results disappointing.
The American Petroleum Institute industry group praised the Trump government’s efforts to open the shelter before drilling, saying it will create jobs and increase Alaska’s revenue, which suffers as oil production on the northern slope has declined over the years. More recently, oil prices have fallen sharply during the pandemic. The majority of the state’s political leaders also support drilling in the shelter.
However, it is not clear how much interest the sales are attracting from oil companies. Arctic drilling is costly, making it difficult to achieve a good return on investment, especially in the lower 48 states, such as Texas, where the condition is less difficult.
Moreover, purchasing leases would only be the beginning of the process. Most experts say it should take at least a decade or longer for any oil or gas to be extracted from the shelter. By then, efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels worldwide may mean that there is little or no market for oil.
Companies may also choose that pursuing oil in a clean area that is valued by the country’s environmentalists and some Alaskan natives is not worth the potential impact on their reputation. Several large banks have said they will not lend money to companies to drill the shelter.
In the 2017 legislation, the rental sale plan was billed to increase the revenue of the federal treasury. The Trump administration originally estimated a loss of $ 1.8 billion for the government over a decade. The Congressional Budget Office later offered a lower estimate of $ 1.1 billion.
But independent analyzes – including The New York Times ’analysis – have found that this revised amount is probably too optimistic. Based on similar Alaskan sales over the past few decades, analyzes suggest that potential revenue for the next decade is likely to be around tens of millions of dollars.