Arctic Wildlife Refuge Oil Leasing

FILE - In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an airplane flies over caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska.The Department of the Interior has approved an oil and gas leasing program within Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to polar bears, caribou and other wildlife. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed the Record of Decision, which will determine where oil and gas leasing will take place in the refuge’s coastal plain. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)

JUNEAU, Alaska — The US government held its first-ever oil and gas lease sale Wednesday for Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an event critics labeled as a bust with major oil companies staying on the sidelines and a state corporation emerging as the main bidder.

The sale, held as scheduled after a judge Tuesday rejected requests by Indigenous and conservation groups to halt the event, garnered bids on half the 22 tracts that were listed as available in the refuge’s coastal plain. The US Bureau of Land Management, which held the sale, said the bids were under review.

The rugged remote area off the Beaufort Sea is considered sacred by the Indigenous Gwich’in. Critics of the lease sale say the region is special, providing habitat for wildlife including caribou, polar bears, wolves and birds, and should be off limits to drilling.

Supporters of drilling have viewed development as a way to bolster oil production, generate revenue and create or sustain jobs.

A state corporation, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, was the sale’s main bidder. Its executive director, Alan Weitzner, in a statement, said in acquiring nine tracts, “Alaska preserves the right to responsibly develop its natural resources.

Members of the state’s congressional delegation, in a statement released by the land management agency, lauded the day as momentous. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, on Twitter, called the lease sale “historic for Alaska and tremendous for America.”

“Alaskans have waited two generations for this moment; I stand with them in support of this day,” he said.

Kate MacGregor, a deputy Interior Department secretary, said the sale marked, in part, the Trump administration’s commitment to working “to fulfill the goal of US energy security for decades to come.”

“And when it comes to Arctic national security, today’s sale will further demonstrate the United States will have a long-term economic presence,” she added.

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