The Department of Interior is fast-tracking plans to sell oil leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Reuters reported Friday.
“That lease sale will happen in 2019,” Joe Balash, the assistant interior secretary for lands and minerals management, told an oil industry conference Thursday in Alaska. The vast area, home to caribou and polar bears, was off-limits to oil and gas drilling until 2017, when lawmakers moved to mandate drilling in the Arctic.
The mandate requires DOI to hold a lease sale within four years, offering more than 400,000 acres of the coastal plain of ANWR for development. The agency issued an environmental impact statement in 2018 and will follow up with a final report by August, Balash said. A lease sale will follow soon thereafter, he added.
Environmentalists are criticizing the administration’s break-neck pace. “If they really stick with that timeline, then they’re likely going to be violating several environmental laws,” Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, told Reuters.
Offshore drilling in the Arctic was a key element of President Donald Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda, which aims to dramatically boost oil and gas production. Interior officials began crafting a replacement to the Obama administration’s five-year plan for offshore drilling during the early part of Trump’s second year.
The administration’s plan, released in early 2018, proposed the largest number of offshore lease sales ever, opening 90 percent of the outer continental shelf acreage to energy exploration covering 98 percent of recoverable oil and gas resources. U.S. offshore areas are estimated to hold 90 billion barrels of oil and 127 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to official estimates.
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