Alaska agency offers to spend $ 1.5 million on arctic refuge oil projects, even after Biden administration suspended leases
The Alaskan agency that has acquired federal leases to support oil drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is proposing to spend up to $ 1.5 million to develop a multi-year seismic plan there.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is considering reviewing the proposal Wednesday. The Biden administration suspended leases earlier this month, saying legal flaws existed in the shelter rental program put in place under President Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden has said during his campaign that he will protect the refuge at all times and he has taken action to block drilling there on his first day in office.
Biden’s Home Office said following an environmental review of the program, it could “cancel” the agency’s leases or change them.
AIDEA’s plans were first reported by Alaska Public Media.
The state agency, in the dying days of Trump’s presidency, acquired seven 10-year leases on 365,000 acres for $ 12.8 million.
AIDEA led the way in leasing. Two other small businesses each bought a leaflet. The agency acquired the leases amid fears that the lease sale would fail and to allow the state to someday partner with oil companies for development.
The rental program was required in a 2017 law passed by a Republican-led Congress.
But conservation groups and some tribal entities oppose the drilling, saying it will harm wildlife and lead to more greenhouse gas emissions. As concerns about climate change increase globally, major banks have sworn not to fund oil and gas activities in the refuge.
Colleen Bryan, director of communications at the state agency, said the agency holds “current, valid and enforceable leases.”
“With this we reserve certain rights,” she said.
Agency staff recommended that its seven-member board of directors approve the resolution.
The resolution argues that oil production in the refuge would support the state’s economy and the continued use of the 800-mile Trans-Alaska pipeline. Bryan said the production would create thousands of jobs in Alaska and tens of billions of dollars in federal and state royalties.
If approved, the proposal would allow its executive director, Alan Weitzner, to request quotes and sign contracts with engineers and other professionals to conduct studies, collect data, and conduct pre-development work to support a seismic oil and gas exploration program.
Spending for the activity would come from the state agency’s $ 20 million Arctic Infrastructure Development Fund that supported the shelter rental effort.
Weitzner and members of the state agency’s board could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.
Bernadette Demientieff, head of the Gwich’in steering committee that defends several tribal communities in Alaska and Canada, said the measure is “very, very disrespectful.”
Development in the refuge would harm the environment and the tribal communities that depend on the refuge to hunt caribou and other food, she said.
“What about our food security, our health, our environment? ” she said. “They have a fight ahead of them. We don’t give up. “
The steering committee and other tribal groups, along with conservation groups and 15 Democratic-led states, are suing the federal government to stop the shelter rental program.
Harry Brower Jr., mayor of the borough of North Slope, representing Alaska’s native communities on the slope, said he supports drilling into the refuge if done correctly. The district intervened in the legal battle on the side of the federal government.
“Responsible development of ANWR is not expected to significantly affect wildlife populations, the environment or the health and lifestyles of our residents,” the borough said in a statement Friday.