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US approves oil, gas leasing plan for Alaska Wildlife refuge

FILE - In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an airplane flies...
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)(AP)
Published: Aug. 17, 2020 at 11:00 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Trump administration on Monday took another step to opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for oil and gas, potentially fulfilling a decades-long dream for Republicans.

Environmentalists, however, promised to fight opening up the coast plain of the refuge, a 1.56-million acre swath of land along Alaska’s northern Beaufort Sea coast, home to polar bears, caribous and other wildlife, after the Department of the Interior approved an oil and gas leasing program.

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed the Record of Decision, which will determine a program for where oil and gas leasing will take place in the refuge’s coastal plain.

“The establishment of this program marks a new chapter in American energy independence,” Bernhardt said during a conference call with reporters.

“Years of inaction have given away to an informed and determined plan to responsibly tap ANWR’s energy potential for the American people for generations to come,” he said.

President Trump insisted Congress include a mandate providing for leasing in the refuge in a 2017 tax bill.

Over the last four decades, Republicans have attempted to open the refuge to drilling. President Bill Clinton vetoed a Republican bill to allow drilling in 1995, and Democrats blocked a similar plan 10 years later.

The Interior’s Bureau of Land Management in December 2018 concluded drilling could be conducted within the coastal plain area without harming wildlife.

“Today’s announcement marks a milestone in Alaska’s forty-year journey to responsibly develop our state and our nation’s new energy frontier,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement.

The Republican governor called Monday’s decision “a definitive step in the right direction to developing this area’s energy potential,” which he estimated at 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil reserves.

Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement that the new opportunity offered by opening the coastal plain “is needed both now, as Alaskans navigate incredibly challenging times, and well into the future as we seek a lasting economic foundation for our state.

“Through this program, we will build on our already-strong record of an increasingly minimal footprint for responsible resource development.”

Environmental groups immediately assailed opening the refuge and promised litigation.

“The Trump administration’s so-called review process for their shameless sell-off of the Arctic Refuge has been a sham from the start. We’ll see them in court,” Lena Moffitt with the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, said in a statement.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.