Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop.

Coastal Plain Drilling Leases Suspended

Yesterday, the Biden Administration suspended the oil and gas leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and will complete its own analysis of the program’s environmental impacts, essentially throwing out the analysis done by the Trump Administration. Yesterday’s Secretarial Order follows the Executive Order President Biden issued on his first day in office, which placed the program under a temporary moratorium.

The tax cut bill passed in 2017 by the Republican-controlled Congress and former President Trump included a provision to open the Refuge to oil and gas development. Trump’s Department of Interior produced a flawed environmental impact statement that opened the entire 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain to oil and gas leasing and development, and on January 6, 2021, the Bureau of Land Management sold drilling leases on more than half a million acres of the Coastal Plain.

Meanwhile, on August 24, 2020, the Gwitch’in Nation, together with a coalition of conservation organizations including Wilderness Watch, filed a lawsuit against the leasing program and an associated seismic exploration proposal that also threatens the Coastal Plain and its wildlife. We are represented by Trustees for Alaska. The legal challenge is still active and moving forward, and we are optimistic that ultimately the Refuge will be safe. 

While yesterday’s suspension of the oil and gas leasing program is welcome news, we are disappointed the Biden Administration didn’t go further. The Administration ultimately needs to cancel the program rather than kicking the can down the road. We will keep pushing for stronger action from the Administration, and let you know when there’s a public comment opportunity so your voice can be heard.

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Photo: Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,
with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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