Biden cancels Alaska Arctic Refuge drilling leases

September 7, 2023

President Biden on Wednesday announced that his Administration was canceling the seven remaining oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife refuge, overturning sales made in the ending days of the Trump Administration. 

The Department of the Interior said the action was part of the Administration’s “historic conservation and climate agenda,” adding that the Administration was taking “significant steps to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Arctic Refuge) and more than 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A).”

In his own statement, President Biden said, “Alaska is home to many of America’s most breathtaking natural wonders and culturally significant areas. As the climate crisis warms the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for all ages.”

Canceling the leases follows the Biden Administration’s approval of the Willow oil project earlier this year. That move, which angered many environmental advocates, gave ConocoPhillips Alaska the okay to produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day on Alaska’s North Slope, though litigation over the project remains pending.

Some of those same Willow oil project critics are lauding the latest lease cancelations. “It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of today’s announcements for Arctic conservation,” Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, said Wednesday. “Once again, the Arctic Refuge is free of oil leases. Our climate is a bit safer and there is renewed hope for permanently protecting one of the last great wild landscapes in America.”

However, some lawmakers, like Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), are blasting what they say is the Biden Administration’s “war on Alaska.” 

And it’s not just Republicans. Rep. Mary Pelota (D-AK) said she is “deeply frustrated by the reversal of these leases.” 

In 2017, Alaska’s Congressional delegation successfully added language to a federal tax law calling for the federal government to hold two lease sales in the region by late 2024.

Two other Alaska leases among those issued by the Trump Administration in January 2021 were previously given up by small companies over legal wrangling and uncertainties surrounding drilling.

PHOTO Source: Department of the Interior

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