The Trump administration said Thursday it would sell oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in early January, further accelerating its latest effort to allow drilling there.
The Bureau of Land Management said the sale would take place on Jan. 6, following the publication of a “notice of sale” in the Federal Register next Monday. This notice requires a 30 day comment period before a sale can take place.
The announcement of a sale date came just 16 days after the bureau announced a “call for nominations,” which allowed oil companies and others to clarify which plots of land were attractive for drilling.
Normally, a call for applications allows 30 days or more for such responses, followed by weeks of analysis by the bureau to ultimately decide which leaflets will be offered. This would have pushed a sale days before or beyond the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. on January 20, who opposed drilling at the refuge.
The ad, which came from the office in Alaska, did not mention why the schedule has been sped up. But the Trump administration has made no secret of its willingness to sell the rights to drill in the refuge while it is still in power.
Environmental groups denounced the last-minute surge.
“This is a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give the fossil fuel industry one last document out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club , in a statement.
Once the sale is complete, the office must then review and approve the leases, a process that typically takes months. But holding the sale on January 6 potentially gives the office an opportunity to finalize the leases before the opening day. This would make it more difficult for the Biden administration to cancel them.
The Arctic Refuge is a vast expanse of virtually untouched wilderness, almost untouched by people, and home to caribou, polar bears and other migrating wildlife. Of the refuge’s 19 million acres, lease sales are said to be for up to 1.5 million acres of northeast Alaska’s coastal plain.
The refuge has long been protected by environmentalists and Congressional Democrats. But in 2017, with Republicans holding the White House and both houses of Congress, the plan to sell oil and gas leases was approved as part of tax law.
President Trump has said opening part of the safe haven to oil development is one of the most important efforts in his effort to expand domestic production of fossil fuels.