Biden Administration Halts Fossil Fuel Drilling in Alaska Wildlife Refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) covers about 19.3 million acres in northeast Alaska. It is the largest remaining stretch of untouched wilderness in the U.S. and home to all three species of North American bears (black, brown, and polar), the Porcupine caribou herd, the Central Arctic caribou herd, Dall sheep, muskox, wolves, and wolverines.
The region also sits on top of billions of barrels of oil. It was protected from drilling and extraction of oils for decades until 2017 when Congress passed a law that not only authorized but required drilling in the ANWR.
Six years later, that decision has been overturned.
Biden administration cancels oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Trump administration sold nine tracts of land spanning 430,000 acres on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The lessees canceled two leases earlier, and the Biden administration canceled the remaining seven leases on September 7, 2023.
Apart from canceling the leases in the ANWR, the Biden administration also prohibited drilling in 13 million acres of pristine wilderness in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).
NPR-A is a 23-million-acre area in northwest Alaska. In 1992, President Harding set aside this area as an emergency oil supply for the U.S. Navy.
The new regulation prohibits new oil and gas leasing in 10.6 million acres of NPR-A. Also, the Bureau of Land Management must demonstrate that any development in an additional area of 2.4 million acres would result in minimal effects on wildlife.
This would ensure protection for almost 50% of the area of NPR-A.
Not everyone is happy with the Biden administration’s decision
Environmentalists are pleased with this decision, especially after the Biden administration’s announcement of the $8 billion Willow oil drilling project with ConocoPhillips Alaska in NPR-A in March 2023.
However, the Republican Senator from Alaska and certain Alaskan Native groups are not happy with the decision. They argue that it will result in fewer drilling jobs and lower revenue for supporting schools and other public services. The fossil fuel industry is also preparing to take legal action against this decision.
While the region might experience some immediate economic impact, in the long run, these steps could safeguard the Arctic region from disproportionate impacts of the climate crisis.