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Trump administration, in belated push, sets out to sell oil rights in arctic refuge

In a last-minute attempt to achieve its long-sought goal of allowing oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Trump administration announced on Monday that it would begin the formal process of selling leases to companies. oil.

This sets up a potential lease sale just before the inauguration day Jan.20, leaving the new administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who opposed drilling at the shelter, to try to stop them afterwards. stroke.

“The Trump administration is attempting a ‘Hail Mary’ pass,” said Jenny Rowland-Shea, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal group in Washington. “They know what they put out there is rushed and legally questionable.”

The Federal Register on Monday released a “call for applications” from the Bureau of Land Management, to be officially released on Tuesday, regarding lease sales in approximately 1.5 million acres of the refuge along the Arctic Ocean coast. . A call for applications is essentially a request to oil companies to specify the plots of land they would be interested in exploring and possibly drilling for oil and gas.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said it welcomed the move. In a statement, the organization said the development of the shelter was “long overdue and will create well-paying jobs and provide a new source of income for the state – which is why a majority of Alaska support it.”

The call for nominations will allow 30 days for comments, after which the office, which is part of the Home Office, can issue a final sale notice which will take place as early as 30 days later. This means that the sales could take place a few days before the opening day.

Normally, the office would take the time to review the comments and determine which fliers to sell before issuing the final notice of sale, a process that can take several months. In this case, however, the office could decide to offer the entire area and issue the notice immediately.

There was no immediate response to emailed requests for comment from the Home Office or the Alaska Bureau of Land Management office.

Any sale would then be subject to review by agencies in the Biden administration, including the office and the Department of Justice, a process that could take a month or two. This could allow Biden’s White House to refuse to issue the leases, perhaps claiming that the science behind the plan to allow drilling at the refuge was flawed, as environmental groups have claimed.

At stake is the future of the refuge, one of the most remote and pristine regions of the United States and home to polar bears and migrating caribou, among other wildlife. In 2017, in a reversal of decades of protections, the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress opened up the refuge’s coastal plain to potential for oil and gas development.

The coastal plain is believed to overlap geological formations that could contain billions of barrels of oil, although this assessment is based on data collected in the 1980s. Only one exploration well has ever been drilled in the refuge and one. New York Times investigation found the results to be disappointing.

If sales continue, it’s unclear what interest drilling in the refuge will attract from oil companies. It would be at least a decade before oil was produced from there, and by then the drive to wean the world off fossil fuels might have reduced the need for it. Oil production in the Arctic is also difficult and expensive; companies may decide that it is not worth the money. They may also fear the potential impact on their reputation by drilling in such a pristine location.

In August, the Home Office announced that it was accepting a final environmental review of the hire-purchase plan and that it would start preparing to auction the acreage. At the time, Home Secretary David Bernhardt said he believed the sales could take place before the end of the year.

Environmentalists and other opponents, including a group representing an indigenous Alaskan tribe, the Gwich’in, who live near the shelter, have filed a lawsuit, saying the Home Office had failed not sufficiently taken into account the effects of oil and gas development on climate change and on wildlife.

These groups also criticized the decision to launch the call for candidates.

“This lease sale is one more box that the Trump administration is trying to tick for its oil industry allies before leaving the White House in January,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, in a press release. “It is disappointing that this administration to the very end has maintained such low esteem for American public lands, or the wildlife and indigenous communities that depend on it.

In addition, the Bureau of Land Management has revived a plan for a seismic survey in the coastal plain to better assess the oil reserves there. The investigation was proposed by an Alaskan indigenous village company, the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation, bringing in a contractor, SAExploration, which was part of a similar proposal in 2018 and came to nothing.

If the bureau gives final approval to the plan, heavy survey trucks could cross part of the coastal plain by the end of this year.

Environmental groups opposed the plan of investigation, which they say will permanently harm the delicate tundra and could disturb, injure or kill laying polar bears. But even if the investigation continues, it will not be completed until well after the sale.

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