The Biden administration has placed a moratorium on oil and gas leases, offered by the Trump administration, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In his last days in office, former President Trump opened up the Arctic for leasing, a move that was sharply criticized by environmentalists. Although the leasing auction was hardly successful, the Biden administration has put all the leases on suspension, in a move interpreted as a show of the government’s resolve to move away from a fossil fuel-based economy.
Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland said that a review of the leases has found insufficient analysis as required by environmental laws. Due to these factors and many other details outlined in the order, the administration is calling for a fresh analysis of the potential environmental impact of the leases.
Following the announcement, Indigenous communities living near the refuge have welcomed the move. The Gwich’in tribe, which is among the largest Indigenous communities in the area, has been battling to keep oil drilling out of the area for decades.
“The Gwich’in Nation is grateful and heartened by the news that the Biden administration has acted again on its commitment to protecting sacred lands and the Gwich’in way of life,” a Gwich’in committee said in a statement.
The January lease sale did not attract as many bidders as the Trump administration had anticipated. The sale managed to net roughly $14.4 million on 550,000 acres of land, selling most of the tracts for the minimum price of $25 an acre.
“Trump’s desire to push through this lease sale in January was essentially an empty, meaningless, political gesture,” said energy analyst Pavel Molchanov, as reported by Washington Post. “And Biden’s decision is in its own way equally symbolic: There is simply no appetite in the industry to drill there.”
The current administration appears to be approaching the topic of fossil fuels slowly and cautiously. Last week, Justice Department attorneys defended the ConocoPhillips’ Willow project, which seeks to exploit oil reserves on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The Biden administration has also defended Trump’s issuing of oil and gas leases in Wyoming. But the latest move to stop the oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could be an example of the administration’s willingness to gradually transition to an economy less dependent on fossil fuels.
Via Washington Post
Image via Danielle Brigida, USFWS