Listen

News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station

NPR
Environment And Energy Collaborative

Trump Rushes To Lock In Oil Drilling In Arctic Wildlife Refuge Before Biden's Term

942069871_1337763183.jpg

Caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The refuge has long been eyed for oil exploration.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, AP

Caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The refuge has long been eyed for oil exploration.

In a last-minute push, the Trump administration announced Thursday that it will auction off drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in just over a month, setting up a final showdown with opponents before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The announcement of a lease sale comes sooner than some expected: The Bureau of Land Management did not wait for the comment and nominations period to officially end before scheduling a sale date.

The sale, which is now set for Jan. 6, could cap a bitter, decades-long battle over whether to drill in the coastal plain, and it seals the administration's efforts to open the land to development. But the Trump administration's plan for the sale may also draw legal challenges from drilling opponents, who could target the aggressive timeline in court.

Environmental groups have vowed to continue to fight to keep drill rigs out of the coastal plain and have filed lawsuits challenging the Trump administration's environmental reviews.

Biden has also said he opposes drilling in the refuge. But if leases are finalized before he takes office Jan. 20, they could be difficult to revoke.

Support comes from

The coastal plain covers about 1.6 million acres, an area roughly the size of Delaware, and makes up about 8% of the vast refuge. It's home to polar bears, caribou and other wildlife. It's also thought to hold billions of barrels of oil.

The Trump administration started the formal process of selling oil rights in the coastal plain on Nov. 17, when it launched the "call for nominations," a 30-day window for oil companies to confidentiality tell the government which pieces of land they would like included in a lease sale. That comment period ends Dec. 17.

To the west, in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, the government has waited until the comment period closes before providing notice of a lease sale. It must provide at least 30 days notice before holding a sale.

It remains unclear who might show up to a coastal plain lease sale. Oil and gas companies aren't talking publicly about whether they plan to bid.

Copyright 2020 Alaska Public Media. To see more, visit Alaska Public Media.

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.