The pendulum has swung again in the decades-long battle over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Biden administration is suspending oil-and-gas leases in the sensitive Alaskan habitat, blocking a last minute rush by the Trump administration to open the wilderness area to energy companies.
An order from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland cited “alleged legal deficiencies” in the Trump-era leasing program. And the department clarified that all ANWR drilling activities will be suspended pending a new “comprehensive analysis” under the National Environmental Policy Act. That process could take years.
Located in northeast Alaska, ANWR is home to an extraordinary diversity of wildlife, including polar bears, herds of hundreds of thousands of caribou, as well as millions of migratory birds. It also lies atop extravagant oil reserves — roughly 10 billion barrels. As such, ANWR has been a persistent fault line between the parties, with Republicans pressing for energy exploration and Democrats fighting for conservation. The George W. Bush administration made opening ANRW to drilling a top priority. That crusade was thwarted by the Obama administration, but again became an aim of the Trump White House, which legally opened ANWR for drilling by including it in the passage of the GOP’s 2017 tax cut legislation.
The Trump administration did not manage to sell leases until its final lame-duck days, however, finally holding an auction on January 6th (the same day the insurgency at the Capitol attempted to halt the certification of the Electoral College vote). The Post reports that the Biden Interior Department will now move to rescind the leases on the grounds that the Trump administration failed to adhere to proper procedure in rushing the leases to auction.
While the move to suspend drilling leases in ANWR will surely be celebrated by wildlife lovers and climate activists, the Biden administration’s emerging record on drilling is mixed. Just last week, the Biden Justice Department defended the Trump administration’s approval of a different project in another remote part of Alaska that’s expected to produce 100,000 barrels a day for the next 30 years. The administration’s backing of the ConocoPhillips project known as Willow is at odds with President Biden’s pledge to halve U.S. emissions by 2030. Underscoring the danger and the absurdity of the oil extraction, ConocoPhillips plans to install “chillers” in the permafrost to keep its drilling equipment stable on permafrost that’s melting due to global warming.
This is a developing story and will be updated.