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Trump Admin Prepares To Open Arctic Refuge To Oil Drilling, Ending A 30 Year Political Battle

The Trump administration is poised to approve an oil leasing program for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the latest development in a decades-long political battle over the oil-rich area, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Such a program would allow the government to auction oil lease contracts to private companies around the end of the year, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told The WSJ. The move, which would allow drilling in ANWR for the first time in decades, comes after Congress authorized oil leasing in a section of the Alaskan refuge in 2017.

“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, according to The WSJ.

“I have a remarkable degree of confidence that this can be done in a way that is responsible, sustainable and environmentally benign,” he added.

Drilling pads, processing plants and roads will take up just 0.01% of refuge’s 19 million acres, the Department of the Interior told The WSJ.

Congress passed protections for the refuge in 1980, effectively preventing oil drilling in the refuge. The move started a 30-year conflict between environmentalists and lawmakers who want to allow drilling in the area.

Senate Republicans initially included drilling in ANWR in the 2006 budget bill in 2005, but House Democrats removed that language, stopping the attempt to allow oil companies access to the refuge.

Selling oil lease contracts to private companies would make it more difficult to later delay or undo the plan for drilling in the refuge, according to The WSJ’s report. Congress gave the Department of the Interior until 2021 to sell leases to drill on the land.

Opening the approved area to drilling would generate $5 billion in revenue over 10 years, according to a 2012 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report. Oil prices have decreased dramatically since 2012, so the projected figures could change.

Oil prices plunged in April as Saudi Arabia pushed to lower output to prop up prices, The Washington Post reported. At the same time, Russia worked to infuse the market with hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil.

Even so, Bernhardt believes oil companies will make competitive bids.

“Under [a] long-term scenario you’re still looking at an incredibly large, conventional onshore prospect that is far less complex than many,” he told The WSJ.

“And when you look at this from a world-wide standpoint, I’m very confident there will be people and entities who are very interested in this as an attractive prospect,” he added.

Oil development threatens the environment and wildlife, according to the Alaska Wilderness League, a group that opposes drilling in the region.

“Our climate is in crisis, oil prices are cratering, and major banks are pulling out of Arctic financing right and left,” Adam Kolton, the group’s executive director, said in a statement to The WSJ. “This rush to drill would culminate in a fire sale of our nation’s most iconic wilderness.”

ANWR spans more than 19 million acres in northeastern Alaska, making that section of Alaska one the country’s largest wildlife refuges.

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