Elizabeth Miglin | June 2, 2021
The Biden administration is suspending all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in order to take a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the region, the Interior Department announced on Tuesday.
The Refuge is a 1.6 million-acre stretch of tundra on Alaska’s North Slope and is home to endangered polar bears whose population have been in dramatic decline due to diminishing sea ice. The region also provides important calving habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd.
Under the Trump administration, the Bureau of Land Management began administering an oil and gas program in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The opening of the coast to drilling signified the culmination of a four-decade-long effort by the oil industry to gain access to the refuge. The lease sale on January 6, 2021 resulted in 10-year leases on nine tracts covering more than 430,000 acres according to the Department of the Interior. Imposing more restrictions on development in the region or ending the leases altogether would undo a signature policy of the Trump administration.
The suspension of the leases follows the Biden Administrations official review of the activity in the Refuge. The review found multiple defects in the Record of Decision supporting the leases, such as the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives and other legal deficiencies. The suspensions, notably, do not go as far as environmental groups might hope as they do not void the leases all together. However, the initial executive order to review the leases left open the possibility the department would establish a new environmental review process to address legal flaws in the program itself.