Hawaii & Alaska
In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an airplane flies over caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / AP File Photo

AK - The Federal Government Will Hold an ANWR Lease Sale. But Drilling Would Be More Than a Decade Away

The Trump Administration on Monday set the stage for a lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the coming months, but industry observers and Alaska leaders say oil won’t flow for years.

Drilling in the sensitive coastal plain faces strong resistance, questions about future demand for oil and vows from large banks not to invest in the region, they said.

But some said that while litigation could slow the lease sale, the promise of a large discovery in a little-explored land land, where oil has been found at the surface, means drilling is certain.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who has fought for development in ANWR for generations, said that with litigation from conservation groups likely, he doesn’t think there’s enough time to hold a lease sale this year.

But it will be held next year, he said.

Like Prudhoe Bay, where drilling was also controversial before it began, oil production from the refuge will eventually create significant jobs and revenue for Alaska and the U.S., Young said in an interview.

Led by Alaska’s congressional delegation, Congress in 2017 approved legislation calling for two lease sales by late 2024, at least 400,000 acres apiece in the coastal plain of the 19-million-acre refuge in northern Alaska.

On Monday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt finalized a more than two-year environmental review that analyzed potential drilling in the refuge, signing a record of decision that puts all available land, or 1.6-million acres, on the table for possible leasing.

Congress mandated the lease sales, so they have to go forward, Benhardt said, in a meeting with reporters on Monday. The first lease sale will be held by late 2021, and the second by late 2024, he said.

“The question of whether or not there will be a program in ANWR has really been answered,” he said. “The issue now is how do we go about it, and how durable that is.”

He said his agency has met the “gold standard” for a plan, with stipulations that will allow leasing to move ahead safely while protecting the environment, he said.

The plan includes key protections for subsistence hunters and fish and wildlife, including for polar bears and the prized Porcupine caribou herd, the decision says.

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