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Biden Suspends Alaska Wildlife Refuge Oil Leases

The Biden administration has suspended oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and the suspension could become permanent.

In a statement, the Department of the Interior said the suspension was a prerequisite for “a comprehensive analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).”

The Trump administration opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling last year in August by approving the first-ever drilling program for the region. The oil drilling program was planned to be followed by the first oil lease auction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It was supposed to take place “right around the end of the year,” former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said at the time.

Indeed, the Bureau of Land Management launched a tender for some 1.1 million acres in the refuge, but the interest in the area was lukewarm, with big oil companies largely snubbing the controversial lease sale. The highest bidder on nine out of the 11 tracts was Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), a company held by the state of Alaska. The two other takers in the lease sale were Knik Arm Services LLC and Regenerate Alaska, Inc.

While the first ANWR oil and gas lease sale was a historic event for Alaska, analysts say the auction was a bust. Industry experts were not surprised that few companies showed up, considering the oil price collapse in 2020 and the growing opposition to Arctic drilling and banks’ refusal to lend money to corporations to develop oil and gas resources in the Arctic.

Environmentalists challenged the Trump administration’s move to open up the ANWRA for oil drilling but a judge early this year ruled against their request to impose an injunction on drilling.

“Today marks an important step forward fulfilling President Biden’s promise to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.

“Policies aimed at slowing or stopping oil and natural gas production on federal lands and waters will ultimately prove harmful to our national security, environmental progress and economic strength,” said Kevin O’Scannlain, vice president of upstream policy at the American Petroleum Institute.

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By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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