Administration opens 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling

by WorldTribune Staff, August 17, 2020

The Trump administration on Monday announced it has approved an oil leasing program for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, looking south toward the Brooks Range mountains. / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The move, which caps more than 30 years of efforts by oil companies and Alaskan officials, opens the 19-million-acre wilderness to drilling for the first time and makes it difficult to unwind the decision should Democrats recapture the White House in November, Timothy Puko reported for the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

Approving the program clears the way to auction oil leases “right around the end of the year,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said. The decision caps more than 30 years of efforts by oil companies and Alaskan leaders to drill in the refuge.

Bernhardt said the drilling can be conducted in an environmentally sound manner and that Congress has set details into law that will help the plan withstand challenges from environmentalists.

“Congress gave us a very clear directive here, and we have to carry out that directive consistent with the directive that they gave, and consistent with the procedural statutes,” Bernhardt said. “I have a remarkable degree of confidence that this can be done in a way that is responsible, sustainable and environmentally benign.”

Bernhardt said oil can be drilled in the coastal plain along the Arctic Ocean, at the northern tip of the refuge, without spoiling the area. The Interior Department says drilling pads, processing plants and roads needed for drilling will take up just 0.01 percent of the refuge’s 19 million acres.

Bernhardt hailed President Trump’s support for boosting U.S. energy production.

“We take our direction from the president. The president has been very robust on opening additional areas of federal lands, as appropriate, to resource development,” Bernhardt said. “We’ve tried to hit his priorities as expeditiously as we can — with appropriate deliberation.”

A boom in shale drilling has hit Alaska hard in recent years as oil companies left for easier-to-reach and less environmentally sensitive areas, Puko’s report noted.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said it would “strengthen our economy, our energy security, and our long-term prosperity.”

“This is a capstone moment in our decades-long push,” Murkowski said in a statement. “New opportunity … 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.”

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