The U.S. Department of the Interior announced last week the canceling of oil and gas drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
The leases were previously sold on Jan. 6, 2021, during former president Donald Trump’s term, but were then suspended by the Biden administration in June 2021.
The leases would have spanned 10 years and covered 430,000 acres on the Coastal Plain of the refuge. Of the nine tracts sold, two leases were canceled by the lessees after the Biden administration called for a review of the leases. That left seven tracts, with a total of 365,000 acres, which were canceled on Sept. 6.
According to the Department of the Interior, a draft from Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) cited multiple flaws and legal deficiencies in the leasing, including “insufficient analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, including failure to adequately analyze a reasonable range of alternatives and properly quantify downstream greenhouse gas emissions; and failure to properly interpret the Tax Act.”
As such, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland authorized cancellation of the remaining leases.
“With climate change warming the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, we must do everything within our control to meet the highest standards of care to protect this fragile ecosystem,” Haaland said in a statement. “President Biden is delivering on the most ambitious climate and conservation agenda in history. The steps we are taking today further that commitment, based on the best available science and in recognition of the Indigenous Knowledge of the original stewards of this area, to safeguard our public lands for future generations.”
However, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), who held the remaining seven leases, said it will go to court over the lease cancellations, Reuters reported. AIDEA previously sued after the Biden administration suspended the leases for further review, but the case was dismissed.
The government is also proposing new protections for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A). The proposal would limit future oil and gas leases and other industrial development on 13 million acres of the Special Areas of the reserve, including the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay Special Areas.
According to the Department of the Interior, these Special Areas are important wildlife habitats for grizzly bears, polar bears, migratory birds and caribou.
The proposed rule would completely ban new leases on 10.6 million acres, about 40% of the reserve.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest wildlife refuge in the U.S., spanning over 19 million acres. It includes coastal marine, coastal plain tundra, alpine tundra, boreal forest and forest-tundra transitional ecological regions.
“Alaska is home to many of America’s most breathtaking natural wonders and culturally significant areas,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “As the climate crisis warms the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for all ages.”