Trump admin opens bids for ANWR drilling

The Trump administration on Nov. 16 announced formal proceedings to sell oil and gas leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Alaska State Office issued a call for "nominations" on several lease tracts considered for the upcoming Coastal Plain Oil & Gas Lease Sale, covering approximately 1.5 million acres of the refuge along the coast of the Arctic Ocean. The notice launches the beginning of a 30-day public comment period before the agency moves forward with lease sales.

Established in 1960, ANWR is one of the largest remaining expanses of protected wilderness in the US, covering over 19 million acres of land and waters in northeastern Alaska. It is under the management of the US Fish & Wildlife Service as the largest unit within the National Wildlife Refuge System. The majority of the land remains untouched by humans. Rather, ANWR's coastal plain is home to polar bears, muskoxen, grey wolves, migrating waterfowl, and caribou calving grounds held sacred by the Gwich'in and Inupiat peoples.

The announcement comes after US Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt released a plan outlining the agency's steps for issuing ANWR drilling permits. Bernhardt's August 2020 announcement was met with both praise from Alaskan officials and criticism from environmental organizations. 

In 2014 President Barack Obama proposed new protections for ANWR, declaring an additional 5 million acres of land to be designated "wilderness," making them permanently off-limits to oil and gas drilling and other commercial development. But in 2017, after decades of protection, the Republican-controlled Congress drafted legislation to open the reserve's so-called 1002 Area to drilling. The legislation passed as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump.

According to the new announcement, the earliest lease sales could begin by Jan. 17, 2021. They will likely be subject to legal challenges, or reversal by the incoming Biden administration. President-elect Joe Biden's differing approach to public land management includes "permanently protecting" ANWR and "banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters."

From Jurist, Nov. 18. Used with permission.

Biden halts drilling in Arctic refuge

President Joe Biden put a hold on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic just hours after being inaugurated. He signed an executive order Jan. 20 placing a temporary moratorium on all federal activities related to oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Just the day before, nine leases had been signed by the Trump administration, well ahead of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s 2024 deadline mndating two lease sales in the refuge.

Biden's order raises questions about the permitting process for the leases, noting "alleged legal deficiencies underlying the program, including the inadequacy of the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act..." (Indian Country Today)

Biden admin suspends ANWR oil leases

The US Interior Department said June 1 that it will suspend controversial oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that were issued in the final days of the Trump administration. The agency is to conduct a "comprehensive" environmental analysis of the leasing program in the refuge, which Congress approved in 2017 at the urging of Alaska's congressional delegation after decades of failed attempts.

"The department is notifying lessees that it is suspending oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge, pending the review, to determine whether the leases should be reaffirmed, voided, or subject to additional mitigation measures," Interior said in a statement. (Anchorage Daily News)

Biden compromise on NPR-A to release 'carbon bomb'

President Joe Biden's administration announced March 12 it will limit oil drilling in 16 million acres in the 23-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and in nearly 3 million acres of the Beaufort Sea. But the next day, the administration approved the $8 billion Willow project sought by ConocoPhillips within the NPR-A. Climate activists have rallied against project, calling it a "carbon bomb" that would be a betrayal of Biden’s campaign pledges to curb new oil and gas drilling. (Anchorage Daily News, NYT)

Environmentalists sue Biden administration over Willow project

Six environmental and Indigenous organizations joined in bringing a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Department of the Interior over the decision to approve ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil and gas project. The coalition includes Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Alaska Wilderness League, Environment America, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.

The lawsuit, filed by Trustees for Alaska in the US District Court for the District of Alaska, charges that the Biden administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Endangered Species Act by failing to sufficiently weigh the consequences of the project.

This is not the first legal action against the administration over the Willow project. After BLM authorized Willow in January 2021, the coalition successfully challenged the project's progress. In response to the 2021 decision, the administration reduced Willow's size from five to three drills and made other changes that the court will likely consider this time around.

The administration's decision to approve Willow has sparked considerable backlash on social media from those who fear the project will undermine positive climate action. On the other hand, North Slope leaders and some lawmakers have celebrated the decision for its economic potential. (Jurist)