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Energy

Trump administration removes close to 475,000 acres from Arctic refuge oil lease sale

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: December 19, 2020
  • Published December 18, 2020

The Bureau of Land Management on Friday said it was removing 10 tracts, encompassing nearly 475,000 acres, from its Jan. 6 oil and gas lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain.

The federal agency also said it will begin receiving bids for the remaining available tracts on Monday.

The 10 tracts no longer available for bidding are in the southeastern corner of the coastal plain. The Bureau of Land Management had initially proposed offering the vast majority of the coastal plain — the northernmost 1.6 million acres of the 19 million-acre refuge — to bidders.

In a document describing its decision to remove the acreage, BLM said it had received substantive comments from Canadian governments, conservation groups, Gwich’in tribal organizations and others about the core calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd within the refuge. Information collected during a federal environmental analysis and industry interest were also considered, the agency said.

“In addition to tract nominations, BLM received and reviewed over 40,000 comments during the nomination and comment period, the vast majority of which were opposed to leasing of any tracts in the Coastal Plain,” the agency said.

Congress in 2017 approved oil and gas development in the refuge’s coastal plain after many years of opposition from environmental groups and some Alaska Native tribes. The bill directed BLM to conduct two oil and gas lease sales, offering at least 400,000 acres, for bid by 2024.

Conservation and Indigenous groups have sued in an attempt to halt the Jan. 6 sale.

President-elect Joe Biden and his nominee for Interior secretary, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., both oppose oil development in the refuge, although a lease sale could make it harder for them to halt it.

Some have expressed concern about how much industry interest there will be in the sale, including former Alaska Gov. and Sen. Frank Murkowski, who wrote an opinion piece in the Daily News this week urging the state of Alaska to bid on the leases itself.

The Jan. 6 lease sale will be held via video streaming at blm.gov/live.

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