The first ever US oil lease sale in the Arctic is a huge fail

“Essentially, the Trump administration had a party, hoped the oil industry would show up, and it didn’t.”


The beginning of 2021 was nerve-racking for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the Trump administration held its first-ever oil and gas lease sale in the refuge’s coastal plain. 

According to The Hill, the money made from this sale would be used to pay for proposed tax cuts for corporations.

“Climate change is the greatest threat of our time and the consequences will be severe and irreversible if we allow oil drilling to proceed in the cherished Arctic Refuge,” said Erik Grafe, an attorney with Earthjustice. 

Luckily, this major environmental rollback was a huge fail and only attracted three bidders — one of which was the stare of Alaska where the refuge is located. 

Alaska’s state-owned economic development corporation was the only bidder on nine of the parcels offered for lease in the northernmost swath of the refuge, known as the coastal plain. Two small companies also each picked up a single parcel, reports NPR

“This lease sale was an epic failure for the Trump administration and the Alaska congressional delegation. After years of promising a revenue and jobs bonanza they ended up throwing a party for themselves, with the state being one of the only bidders,” says Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.

The sale only generated a small percentage of the revenue it had projected to raise making this a victory in the 40-year battle over drilling in an area that is home to wildlife and is a crucial part in the biological heart of the entire refuge. 

As The New York Times reports, it had been unclear whether oil companies had much interest in drilling for oil in the refuge, given the costs of operating in hostile Arctic conditions and the risk to their reputations that would come from drilling in such a pristine place. In response to pressure from environmental groups and some Alaska Native groups opposed to drilling, major U.S. banks had announced they would not finance oil development in the refuge.

“Essentially, the Trump administration had a party, hoped the oil industry would show up, and it didn’t,” says Kolton. 


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