As of today, oil and gas companies can begin choosing oil leases to bid on in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife (ANWR) Refuge, courtesy of the outgoing Trump administration’s Department of Interior, which announced a “call for nominations” in the Federal Register. That’s basically asking interested parties to select the areas they’d like to open for drilling.
This also opens up a public comment period for the next 30 days (instructions for submitting comments at bottom pf page).
“The real trick is doing the math around the marginal cost of producing a barrel of oil in that area of the world”
Following the public comment period, there will be a lease sale which can begin 30 days after the public comment ends. 60 days from today, leases can be sold.
Which is about a week before the Biden administration takes office.
Biden has already said he intends to restrict any new leases or drilling in ANWR, so if any lease sales were finalized the week before he took office, his administration would have to undertake the thorny process of undoing them, if even possible.
“This lease sale is one more box the Trump administration is trying to check off for its oil industry allies,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement. “But it is disappointing that this administration until the very end has maintained such low regard for America’s public lands, or the wildlife and Indigenous communities that depend on them.”
Alaska’s Indigenous groups have been quick to express frustration.
“Any company thinking about participating in this corrupt process should know that they will have to answer to the Gwich’in people and the millions of Americans who stand with us,” Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said.
The American Petroleum Institute said the move is “long overdue and will create good-paying jobs and provide a new revenue stream for the state — which is why a majority of Alaskans support it.”
The latter is arguable, as is, frankly, the former. There are serious concerns about whether recovering oil and gas from ANWR would be economically viable. ANWR is incredibly remote, oil is cheap, environmental regulations will hamper what’s allowed in terms of infrastructure development, lawsuits will be relentless, and the incoming Biden administration has signaled it won’t be friendly to the fossil fuel industry, at least not nearly as much as the current White House.
All of that adds up to a serious question mark for investors in oil and gas companies who would fund development in ANWR. Like, say, Blackrock, the world’s biggest asset manager, which has publicly stated environmental concerns will no longer be prominent in its portfolio (whether that actually happens of course is anyone’s guess).
“The real trick is doing the math around the marginal cost of producing a barrel of oil in that area of the world,” Andy Mack, a former commissioner with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources who has advocated for opening ANWR to drilling, told NPR.
The Trump administration in 2017 overturned years of efforts to protect ANWR’s pristine wilderness from development when they announced the coastal plain of the refuge—where the vast majority of oil reserves are thought to be—would be open to development. It’s long been part of the Trump White House’s vision of total energy independence, albeit one that relies on greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels.
Which casts some of this effort in a political light. If the Biden administration is likely to push to overturn any lease sales that happen in the days before he’s inaugurated, and if it remains to be seen whether any oil companies are interested in even committing the funds to drilling there, it starts to look as though this is merely an appeasement of the fossil fuel interests that have supported his campaigns and that his administration has supported during Trump’s single term as president.
“This administration is ending as it began, with a desperate push for oil drilling regardless of the human or environmental costs,” Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), chairperson of the House Natural Resources Committee, said. “It’s fitting that President Trump is going out with one last try to score political points by destroying our environment, and that he’s being replaced by someone who understands the much greater stakes involved in these decisions.”
This is also on the heels of the administration throwing a monkey wrench or two into the recently passed Great American Outdoors Act and the full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Just before election day, the White House failed to meet a deadline to provide a list to Congress of the projects they intended to fund with money from the LWCF. They had 90 days to do so, and watchdogs thought it strange that the White House seemingly—and cynically—ignored a bill they championed as a crucial piece of conservation and bi-partisan legislation.
The Trump administration has also just pushed through an order that would give state and local governments total power over LWCF monies used in their jurisdiction, including the power to veto any federal conservation program, flying in the face of bothering to enact the law at all.
This is likely to be overturned by the Biden administration too.
“President-elect Biden has pledged to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” campaign spokesman Matt Hill said Monday. “This move will not deter him from fulfilling his commitment to preserving America’s national treasures and the local economies and communities they support.”
To comment on the lease sales, or if you’re interested in leasing a parcel, and hey maybe you don’t have to drill, mail comments or parcel nominations to: State Director, Bureau of Land Management, Alaska State Office, 222 West 7th Avenue, Mailstop 13, Anchorage, AK 99513-7504.
Top photo: Canning River, ANWR: Wikipedia