Arctic & Antarctica
Caribou graze in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska in this undated file photo.

AK - Biden administration cancels years-long attempt to drill in Alaska National Wildlife Refuge

CNN - The Biden administration announced Wednesday it will cancel seven Trump-era oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and protect more than 13 million acres in the federal National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, stymieing a years-long attempt to drill in the protected region.

The cancellation will affect Alaska’s state-owned oil development agency, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which bought the leases covering about 365,000 acres on ANWR’s Coastal Plain during the Trump administration.

“With today’s action, no one will have rights to drill for oil in one of the most sensitive landscapes on Earth,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told reporters on a press call. “Public lands belong to all Americans, and there are some places where oil and gas drilling and industrial development simply do not belong.”

President Joe Biden echoed Haaland’s comments in a statement and said that his administration will “continue to take bold action” on climate change.

Wednesday’s actions, Biden said, “will help preserve our Arctic lands and wildlife, while honoring the culture, history, and enduring wisdom of Alaska Natives who have lived on these lands since time immemorial.”

The 2017 GOP tax bill opened a small part of the pristine wildlife refuge for drilling, a measure championed by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican. But it was never developed or drilled – or came close to doing so. Haaland suspended the leases in June 2021, and some major oil companies, including Chevron, canceled their leases in the area the following year.

However, the 2017 tax law mandates leasing in ANWR, meaning the Biden administration will have to launch a new leasing process and hold another lease sale by the end of 2024, albeit likely with tighter environmental provisions.

“We intend to comply with the law,” a senior Biden administration official said, adding they didn’t have a timeline for an additional lease sale apart from the law’s deadline of holding one by December 2024.

Murkowski condemned Wednesday’s cancellations, which she said come “at a time when America and our allies need Alaska’s resources more than ever.”

“These decisions are illegal, reckless, defy all common sense, and are the latest signs of an incoherent energy policy from President Biden,” the senator said in a statement.

The Interior Department is also proposing federal protections for 13 million acres of land in the NPR-A, limiting future oil and gas development and taking steps to implement conservation protections it announced in March, alongside the controversial Willow oil drilling project. The proposed rule would expressly prohibit new oil and gas leasing in 10.6 million acres, or over 40% of the NPR-A, according to an Interior Department press release.

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