Haaland cancels leases in Alaska’s Arctic Refuge

A file photo of a polar bear walking along the edge of Kaktovik, the only village within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain.
(Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has canceled all oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in a move designed to protect the region and reduce fossil fuel production.

“With today’s action, no one will have rights to drill in one of the most sensitive landscapes on Earth,” Haaland said in an online news conference Wednesday. “Climate change is the crisis of our lifetime. And we cannot ignore the disproportionate impacts being felt in the Arctic. We must do everything within our control to meet the highest standards of care to protect this fragile ecosystem.”

No company was close to drilling in the refuge, in northeastern Alaska. Two companies that bought leases during the Trump administration later gave them up. A state agency, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, still holds seven leases. But Haaland’s cancellation forecloses the possibility it might sell them to a company to develop them. Her announcement also seems aimed at dissuading any company from even thinking about drilling in the refuge, even as the department is planning its second legally required lease sale there.

Chilling message to industry, says energy association 

Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said cancelling the ANWR leases sends a chilling message to the industry nationwide.

“It does not send a signal of stability or consistency, or that this administration believes in the future of oil and gas development in our country,” Moriarty said. “If you’re an investor in any federal area in America, you have to wonder, ‘What the heck?’”

She called it ironic that this announcement comes just as news emerges that more oil tankers are sailing through the Bering Sea, taking oil from Russia’s Arctic to China.

“The world demand for oil is not going away,” Moriarty said. “So if the Biden administration was really concerned about the climate, I don’t think they would want to make more regulatory changes in the state that does it better than anywhere else.”

Lease sale was flawed: Haaland

The future of the ANWR leases has been in doubt since the start of President Joe Biden’s term, when he ordered the Interior Department to review them for “alleged legal deficiencies.”

“What we have found in our analysis is that the lease sale itself was seriously flawed, and based on a number of fundamental legal deficiencies,” Haaland said Wednesday.

Her department says the Trump administration failed to properly consider alternatives to drilling in the refuge and to completely quantify the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from producing oil, refining it and burning it as fuel.

Haaland also announced a proposed rule to make protections on federal land to the west, in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, more durable. It closely follows the contours of previously announced protections and does not directly impinge on ConocoPhillips’ work on its Willow leases, acquired in 1999.

“The proposed rule would not impact valid existing rights,” said Laura Daniel-Davis, principal deputy assistant Interior secretary for Land and Minerals Management.

ConocoPhillips says it has already spent more than $900 million on preliminary work at Willow and plans to spend that much again on construction this winter, if it wins a legal challenge pending in U.S. District Court.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Bill requiring First Nations’ oil and gas development consent spiked in Yukon

Norway: Norway’s oil minister: “We need new discoveries”, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: More Russian Arctic oil via Murmansk redirects to India, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Indigenous leaders divided over ANWR court ruling, Eye on the Arctic

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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