The Trump administration announced it will sell oil drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on January 6 -- an auction that would complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s vow to “permanently protect” the rugged reserve in northeast Alaska.
A formal “notice of sale” is set to be published in the Federal Register on December 7. The move is in keeping with a congressional mandate to hold two auctions of oil and gas leases in the refuge’s coastal plain by December 22, 2024.
“Congress directed us to hold lease sales in the ANWR coastal plain, and we have taken a significant step in announcing the first sale,” Chad Padgett, Alaska director of the Bureau of Land Management said in a news release. “Oil and gas from the coastal plain is an important resource for meeting our nation’s long-term energy demands and will help create jobs and economic opportunities.”
Environmentalists and indigenous Alaskans who oppose Arctic drilling have said the action is being rushed, without protections for a fragile wilderness that is home to calving caribou, migratory birds and other species.
Details of the sale terms -- including the minimum bids that would be required of oil company participants -- were not immediately available Thursday.
The sale date gives the Trump administration two weeks to formally issue any leases sold at auction before Biden is sworn in as president January 20. That post-sale process of vetting high bidders involves multiple agencies -- including a Justice Department review -- and typically takes months.
It’s not clear what oil companies might show up for an auction, given the current economic environment, the regulatory uncertainty and the steep public opposition to Arctic drilling. Companies once viewed as potential bidders for Arctic acreage have slashed spending this year as the coronavirus pandemic eroded crude demand and prices. And any investment in Arctic refuge oil rights is unlikely to see action over the next four years, with the incoming Biden administration poised to block essential permits for oil exploration activity on the leases.