The Trump administration’s unprecedented auction of Arctic drilling rights Wednesday netted just $14.4 million from three bidders, with major oil companies steering clear of the sale. Amid low crude prices, fears about a backlash from the public and the prospect of regulatory uncertainty, just two oil companies placed bids on leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain: Knik Arm Services LLC and Regenerate Alaska Inc. They were joined by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state-owned economic development corporation that last month approved spending $20 million on coastal plain leases but has never spearheaded an oil exploration project.
Bids were provisionally delivered on 11 leases spanning about 553,000 acres (223,791 hectares), the Bureau of Land Management said. “It is my hope that if and when commercial quantities of oil are discovered on any of these leases, that this action will make history for generations to come,” yielding well-paying jobs, royalty payments and new sources of crude, said Deputy Interior Secretary Kate MacGregor.
“Today’s lease sale was the logical conclusion to this completely flawed effort: a massive failure,” said Jenny Rowland-Shea, a senior policy analyst for public lands at the Center for American Progress. “The Trump administration has managed to rip off taxpayers, ignore the rights and voices of the Gwich’in and threaten polar bears and caribou, all to hand the coastal plain over to a couple of wildcatters and a state-owned corporation with no ability to drill.”