Trump administration takes steps toward lease sale in Arctic refuge

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
A file photo of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Trump administration is taking steps toward a lease sale within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area that President-elect Joe Biden has said he would move to protect from oil and gas drilling.

Chad Padgett, state director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for Alaska, said that hearing from industry on which tracts to make available “is vital in conducting a successful lease sale.” The agency plans to make a formal call for nominations Tuesday.

It said it would also seek comments on whether tract sizes should be reduced and whether any should receive special considerations.


The deadline for submitting nominations and comments will be Dec. 17, the agency said.

Alaska’s political leaders, including the state’s Republican congressional delegation, celebrated the passage of legislation in 2017 allowing for drilling within the refuge’s roughly 1.5-million-acre coastal plain, seeing it as a way to boost oil production, create jobs and generate royalties. Oil has long been Alaska’s economic lifeblood, though production is a fraction of what it was at its peak in the late 1980s.

The Gwich’in people have opposed development within the refuge, citing concerns over the impact on the Porcupine caribou herd on which they have relied for subsistence. Conservation groups also have expressed opposition.

The Trump administration took two major steps this week to advance projects in Alaska that pose dire threats to the environment.

July 24, 2020

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of Gwich’in Steering Committee, said the voices and concerns of Indigenous people in the region were not being heard.

“But we’re not giving up. We’re not going to just allow people to come into our homeland, do whatever they want and stand idly by,” she said.

On his campaign website, Biden mentioned an intent to protect the refuge permanently. “You better believe the Gwich’in will hold [him] accountable to it,” Demientieff said.

Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said a lease sale is “one more box the Trump administration is trying to check off for its oil industry allies before vacating the White House in January.”

President Trump’s plan to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic refuge could turn the landscape into a trash heap.

Sept. 8, 2020

Kolton said in a statement that “Arctic Refuge drilling has never made sense from a climate change, human rights or wildlife protection perspective, and with continued volatility in oil markets and major U.S. and international banks unwilling to invest in Arctic oil, the economic argument no longer holds water either.”


Kolton questioned whether the Trump administration, based on how the process normally works, would have time to hold a lease sale.

“So a new Biden administration could come in with tools at its disposal [to] unwind this,” he said. “That said, we can’t take anything for granted.”

Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Assn., said she was not sure of the level of interest in the refuge’s coastal plain among companies because it was not something companies publicly discuss for competitive reasons.

“We’ll wait to see what the reaction is from industry,” she said. “Obviously we’ve long supported having the opportunity to have lease sales on federal land whether it’s the coastal plain or not. We’ll wait to see how the process unfolds over the next 30 to 60 days.”