Donald Trump’s team has announced last minute drilling leases on more than 400,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
His administration made the announce on Trump’s last full day in office, January 19, in an attempt to deliver on fossil fuel promises.
Despite the formal issuance from the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), any organisations seeking to drill the land would still need to get permission from the new administration, which could pose a problem given President-elect Joe Biden’s commitment to protect the 7.9-million-hectare wildlife refuge.
The refuge is a popular habitat for polar bears and caribou in the area, and Biden has vowed to ban new oil and gas leasing on federal land.
The Alaska department of the BLM confirmed it has issued nine of the 11 drilling leases following an auction that took place on January 6, adding that it is currently working on the other two.
Seven of the leases were sold to Alaskan state agency, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, while the remaining two were sold to small, independent companies Knik Arm Services LLC and Regenerate Alaska Inc.
Those in favour of opening up the refuge to oil drilling have argued that it is essential for creating jobs in the state.
Chad Padgett, Alaska’s BLM state director, described the issuance of the leases as ‘a hallmark step and a clear indication that Alaska remains important to meeting the nation’s energy needs,’ Reuters reports.
The Trump administration has been on a mission to open up the wildlife refuge for drilling, however it has been met with challenges from Native American groups and environmentalists, who strongly oppose the decision.
‘Our way of life is not for sale or up for negotiation. This is about our survival,’ said Bernadette Dementieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, which represents local tribes that rely on the Porcupine caribou population.
Meanwhile, Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, is calling on Biden to adopt ‘strong and decisive action to ensure that no oil rig or seismic truck ever despoils an inch of this last great wilderness’.
Biden has not yet responded to the news; however, given his opposition to opening the land up for drilling, it’s likely he’ll address the leases following his inauguration, which will take place later today, January 20.
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