Biden Suspends Oil and Gas Leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Biden administration has suspended the oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, invalidating a drilling program approved by Donald Trump and reviving a political fight over a secluded region, inhabiting polar bears, other wildlife and a rich reserve of oil.

The preceding administration auctioned off parts of Alaska’s Arctic Refuge to oil and gas developers during the last days of Donald Trump in the office.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) order follows a temporary halt on oil and gas lease activities. Biden’s executive order recommended a new environmental review was necessary to address possible legal flaws in a drilling program approved by the previous administration under a 2017 law enacted by Congress.

Biden Suspends Oil and Gas Leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

A polar bear family along the Beaufort Sea coast in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska | Image: Reuters

The secluded, 19.6 m-acre refuge is inhabited by polar bears, caribou, snowy owls and other wildlife, as well as migrating birds from six continents.

Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, applauded the suspension of the Arctic leasing program, which she said was the result of an imperfect legal process under Trump.

She said,

Suspending these leases is a step in the right direction, and we commend the Biden administration for committing to a new program analysis that prioritizes sound science and adequate tribal consultation.

Republicans and the oil industry have been trying to open up the oil-rich refuge, which is considered sacred by the indigenous Gwich’in communities, for drilling; while democrats, environmentalists and various Alaska Native tribes have been protesting to block the progress of mining.

The US Bureau of land management, an interior department agency, held a lease sale for the refuge’s coastal plain on 6 January, two weeks ahead of Biden’s taking over the office. The agency signed leases for nine tracts of about 685 sq miles.

Biden Suspends Oil and Gas Leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Biden administration suspends the oil and gas leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, invalidating the drilling program approved by Trump | Image: Lisa Hupp/USFWS

Biden has opposed drilling in the region, and environmentalists have been pushing for permanent protection. The administration’s action to suspend the leases comes after officials defended a Trump administration decision to approve a major oil project on Alaska’s North Slope, disappointing environmentalists.

Biden is facing pressure from groups urging him to do more to protect other areas of Alaska from oil and gas infrastructure. Last week, the government filed a brief supporting ConocoPhillips plans to pump more oil out of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, west of the refuge.

It also proposed a rule, permitting oil and gas companies to harass polar bears and walruses in the Beaufort Sea and Western Arctic as long as they are not killed. Meanwhile, climate activists are calling Biden out for not intervening in two major pipeline battles outside of Alaska.

However, the administration needs to do more in order to fulfill its pledges against climate change and to protect this delicate and crucial ecosystem.

Via: The Guardian 

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