As Washington D.C.’s burning embers threaten to spark a flash fire today, lost in the headlines is the initial sales period for oil leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which the Trump administration has attempted to create an opportunity to drill at the formerly protected area of Northwest Alaska.
Oil industry analysts have said they expect interest in the sale to be lukewarm for many reasons.
A major one is the opposition.
Opponents to drilling in the refuge have raised concerns about its impact on Indigenous people, the global climate, and wildlife, including caribou who give birth in the coastal plain and polar bears who den there.
They’ve lobbied oil companies, banks and other financial institutions to stay away from developing the refuge. A number of major banks say they won’t fund oil projects in the Arctic.
As expected, there weren’t many bids in the initial sales window.
Among the statements from today’s news came from Accountable, a government watchdog organization.
HELENA, MT – Today, Trump’s Bureau of Land Management began auctioning off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) leases to Big Oil. Leases were also potentially gobbled up by a State of Alaska entity backed by taxpayers due to low interest from the fossil fuel sector and banks.
In the wake of this disastrous decision Accountable.US spokesperson Jayson O’Neill issued the following statement: “Instead of helping Americans during the pandemic, the desperate Trump administration and oil industry-backed Alaska officials are teaming up to try sell off protected public lands to Big Oil in a cloak of secrecy. Our nation’s pristine and scared public lands should not be for sale. This fire sale process has been so mismanaged and marred by legal missteps and ethical lapses by Trump’s Interior appointees that no rational oil corporation or financial institution should place a bid.”
The oil and gas industry has long sought to develop the refuge’s prized 1.6-million-acre coastal plain, an area that is home to polar bears, vital to migrating Caribou, and sacred to the Gwich’in people. However, due to strong opposition, the growing climate crisis, and the legal morass created by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s mismanagement of the process, industry and financial backers have shown little to no interest in purchasing the leases. There are already four legal challenges to the lease sales. With little interest from industry and banks, leases could be sold at rock bottom prices of just $25 per acre, providing little return to taxpayers. That has led to an unprecedented move by state officials that may not even be legal.
The state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) authorized $20 million to bid on the controversial leases’ days before the holidays. The move was backed by oily former Alaska officials and an Alaskan real estate tycoon tied to both an Alaska Native Corporation supportive of developing in the fragile ecosystem and AIDEA.