Environment

Trump rushes through US Arctic Refuge gas and oil lease sales

Donald Trump’s administration is bulldozing through a last-minute gas and oil drilling-rights auction in Alaska’s 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Biden vowed to block oil exploration in the largest national wildlife refuge in the country.

Trump’s Arctic Refuge destruction

The Trump administration announced yesterday that it would sell leases to oil companies, and the Federal Register today published a “request for nominations” from the Bureau of Land Management for oil and gas leases in about 1.5 million acres along the Arctic Ocean coast. Alaska’s northern Beaufort Sea coast is home to polar bears, caribous, and other wildlife.

The American Petroleum Institute (which, incidentally, acknowledged Joe Biden’s win in a November 7 press release), said [via the New York Times] that the announcement was “long overdue and will create good-paying jobs and provide a new revenue stream for the state — which is why a majority of Alaskans support it.” But it might ultimately end up being a waste of time. Bloomberg explains why:

It’s unclear how many oil companies would have the appetite to mount costly operations in the remote Arctic wilderness amid low crude prices, steep public opposition, and regulatory uncertainty. Major US banks have sworn off financing Arctic drilling projects, and conservationists are also pressuring oil executives to rule out work in the region.

Even if leases are sold and issued before January 20, companies will need permits governing air pollution, animal harm, water usage and rights of way that the new administration could stall or deny.

Electrek’s Take

Is this move on Trump’s part surprising? Not in the slightest. Is it irritating? Yup. But despite what the American Petroleum Institute says, the fossil fuel and banking industries are ultimately moving on — because they have to.

Occidental Petroleum Corp — the first US major US oil producer to do so — last week laid out a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at its operations to net-zero by 2040. It will release details at the end of November. It’s joining such European oil giants as Shell, BP, and Equinor in setting emissions-reductions targets.

There are also hundreds of very angry conservation and indigenous groups who will continue to fight this move with a vengeance. (Electrek thinks this Trump administration move stinks, too, of course.)

Chances are good it will be a mostly empty gesture from Trump’s administration as it heads out the door, not only because the Biden administration will what it can to obstruct it, but also that the market just isn’t all that interested in Arctic drilling anymore. Alaska needs to work on finding green energy jobs for its workers instead.

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

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