The Trump administration plans to hold an oil and gas auction for the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in early January, setting up a showdown with opponents less than three weeks before President-elect Biden takes over.

Northern Alaska

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) set the video livestream lease sale for Jan. 6. The information was published Thursday in a Notice of Sale for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program, with the Federal Register notice scheduled for Monday (Dec. 7).

The lease sale program was directed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which allows at least two area-wide auctions within the Coastal Plain covering at least 400,000 acres.

“Congress directed us to hold lease sales in the ANWR Coastal Plain, and we have taken a significant step in announcing the first sale in advance of the December 2021 deadline set by law,” said BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett. “Oil and gas from the Coastal Plain is an important resource for meeting our nation’s long-term energy demands and will help create jobs and economic opportunities.”
The January lease sale, signaled by BLM in November, would include tracts and acreage identified in a Record of Decision (ROD) issued by BLM in August. The ROD put about 92% of the refuge off limits to development.

The ROD also established required operating procedures and lease stipulations to mitigate impacts to resources, including protections for wildlife such as caribou and polar bears.

The sales notice is to be published by BLM on Monday, with more information available at (907) 271-5960.

Alaska’s Republican congressional leaders welcomed the news.

“BLM’s announcement means we are now just weeks away from a long-awaited lease sale in the 1002 Area,” Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for Alaska’s resources to continue benefiting our nation and providing American families with well paying jobs. Alaskans have proven, over and over again, that we can responsibly develop our resources while being good stewards of our lands and waters.”

Developing ANWR’s Coastal Plain “will be critically important,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, to fill the 800-mile-long Trans Alaska Pipeline System, aka TAPS. He credited Interior and BLM with working to implement the leasing program “that Alaskans have fought so hard for more than 40 years to secure.”

Rep. Don Young added that the sale was “a tremendous step forward for our state and the countless Alaskans who make a living in our energy sector.”

According to the congressional delegation, the footprint of drilling pads on the North Slope has declined by 80% since the 1970s, “while the reach of underground drilling has grown by 4,000%.” In addition, the Central Arctic Caribou herd, which ranges throughout Prudhoe Bay, “has seen its population grow for sustained periods alongside development on the North Slope.”

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that ANWR, which spans 19.3 million acres, contains 10.4 billion bbl of technically recoverable oil, part of which could help refill TAPS.

In response to the planned auction, opponents came out swinging, putting their hopes on the new administration to put the kibosh on any sales to be consummated if any tracts are awarded to producers next month. Development could be stymied by litigation, which is expected.

“We’re counting on the Biden administration and the courts to protect polar bears and our climate where Trump wouldn’t,” said Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Kristen Monsell.