The Trump administration is advancing plans to auction drilling rights in the U.S. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has vowed to block oil exploration in the rugged Alaska wilderness. The Interior Department is set to issue a formal “call for nominations” as soon as Monday, kick-starting a final effort to get input on what tracts to auction inside the refuge’s 1.56-million-acre coastal plain. The plans were described by two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named detailing administration strategy.
Environmentalists argue Arctic oil development imperils one of the country’s last truly wild places — a swath of northeast Alaska populated by polar bears, caribou, and more than 200 species of birds.
The Trump administration is also fast-tracking a proposal to conduct 3-D seismic surveys inside the refuge before Jan. 20. The surveys can help pinpoint possible underground oil reserves, but environmentalists warn they are large industrial operations that threaten polar bears hidden in snow-covered dens.
Oil companies that buy leases in the refuge might never get the opportunity to use them while Biden is in the White House. Even if leases are sold and issued before Jan. 20, companies will need permits governing air pollution, animal harm, water usage and rights of way that the new administration could stall or deny.