Photo: Source: Alaska Wilderness League

Biden’s move to suspend oil and gas leases in Arctic Refuge labelled ‘outrageous’

U.S. President Joe Biden has suspended oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), reversing former President Trump’s decision and delivering on a promise to protect the area from fossil fuels extraction. However, the decision has been met with fierce opposition from several U.S. politicians.

The U.S. Department of the Interior on Tuesday suspended all activities related to the implementation of the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program in the ANWR, pending completion of a comprehensive analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Secretarial Order 3401 directs the Department to initiate a comprehensive environmental analysis to review the potential impacts of the program and to address legal deficiencies in the current leasing program’s environmental review under NEPA.

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.

Under the previous administration, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) established and began administering an oil and gas program in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge.

After the BLM prepared the “Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program Environmental Impact Statement” (EIS) under NEPA, the BLM held a lease sale on 6 January 2021 and subsequently issued 10-year leases on nine tracts covering more than 430,000 acres.

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The leases were issued pursuant to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which authorized responsible energy development in ANWR.

On day one, President Biden issued Executive Order 13990, directing the Interior Department to review oil and gas activity in the Arctic Refuge. After conducting the required review, the Department identified defects in the underlying Record of Decision supporting the leases, including the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives in the EIS conducted under NEPA.

Biden’s Arctic decision ‘outrageous’

Following the announcement by the DOI, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, and Governor Mike Dunleavy criticized the decision.

“The Biden administration’s actions are not unexpected but are outrageous nonetheless”, said Alaska Senator Murkowski.

Murkowski added: “Suspending leases in Alaska’s 1002 Area is in direct conflict with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, through which Congress mandates an oil and gas leasing program be established on the non-wilderness Coastal Plain, and ordered at least two lease sales by 2024.

“In addition, The Act specifically states that the purpose of the 1002 area of ANWR is oil and gas development. The oil and gas leasing program established by the Trump Administration meets the legal mandates required by Congress including imposing a framework with a range of environmental safeguards that are successfully guiding production elsewhere in northern Alaska.

“This action serves no purpose other than to obstruct Alaska’s economy and put our energy security at great risk”.

Senator Sullivan said the decision to suspend the Arctic leasing is “nothing more than a naked political move by the Biden administration to pay off its extreme environmental allies”.

Congressman Young commented: “This is not the time to roll back our progress in ANWR, especially amid an economic downturn caused by the pandemic. I call on President Biden to honour the law and the will of Alaskans, and to reverse this decision that will harm so many of our state’s families”.

Governor Dunleavy added: “Section 20001 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (2017) clearly says ‘The Secretary shall establish and administer a competitive oil and gas program for the leasing, development, production and transportation of oil and gas in and from the Coastal Plain.’ Neither the President nor the Secretary are given the discretion to decide otherwise. Our leases for oil and gas are valid and cannot be taken away by the federal government”.

He also added: “I oppose this assault on Alaska’s economy and will use every means necessary to undo this egregious federal overreach”.

Back in February 2021, energy intelligence firm Rystad Energy said that one of the areas that would be affected the most by Biden’s new energy policies would be Alaska.

Rystad Energy estimated that about 72 per cent of the state’s remaining recoverable oil resources could stay in the ground, although the effect on production would be felt only after 2030.

Rystad estimated Alaska’s remaining recoverable oil reserves to be 23.3 billion barrels of oil and condensates. The company said that about 16.8 billion barrels of this might never see the light of day if the temporary bans on oil activity in the ANWR and on new lease sales on state-wide federal lands and waters were here to stay.