FILE – Caribou graze in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, on June 1, 2001. In an aggressive move that angered Republicans, the Biden administration on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, canceled seven oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, overturning sales held in the Trump administration’s waning days, and proposed stronger protections against oil drilling in 13 million acres of wilderness in the state’s National Petroleum Reserve. (AP Photo/File)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — In an aggressive move that angered Republicans, the Biden administration canceled the seven remaining oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday, overturning sales held in the Trump administration’s waning days, and proposed stronger protections against development on 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The Department of Interior’s scrapping of the leases comes after the Biden administration disappointed environmental groups earlier this year by approving the Willow oil project in the petroleum reserve, a massive project by ConocoPhillips Alaska that could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day on Alaska’s petroleum-rich North Slope.

Some critics who said the approval of Willow flew in the face of Biden’s pledges to address climate change lauded Wednesday’s announcement. But they said more could be done. Litigation over the approval of the Willow project is pending.

“Alaska is home to many of America’s most breathtaking natural wonders and culturally significant areas. As the climate crisis warms the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for all ages,” Biden said in a statement.

His actions “meet the urgency of the climate crisis” and will “protect our lands and waters for generations to come,” Biden said.

Alaska’s Republican governor condemned Biden’s moves and threatened to sue. And at least one Democratic lawmaker said the decision could hurt Indigenous communities in an isolated region where oil development is an important economic driver.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who drew criticism for her role in the approval of the Willow project, said Wednesday that “no one will have rights to drill for oil in one of the most sensitive landscapes on earth.” However, a 2017 law mandates another lease sale by late 2024. Administration officials said they intend to comply with the law.

The Biden administration also announced proposed rules aimed at providing stronger protections against new leasing and development in portions of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that are designated as special areas for their wildlife, subsistence, scenic or other values. The proposal still must go through public comment. Willow lies within the reserve but was not expected to be impacted by the proposed rules.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s 1.5-million acre (600,000-hectare) coastal plain, which lies along the Beaufort Sea on Alaska’s northeastern edge, is seen as sacred by the Indigenous Gwich’in because it is where caribou they rely on migrate and come to give birth. The plain is marked by hills, rivers and small lakes and tundra. Migratory birds and caribou pass through the plain, which provides habitat for wildlife including polar bears and wolves.

Alaska political leaders — including some Democrats — have long pushed to allow oil and gas drilling in the refuge in part because of its economic impact on Indigenous communities in an area with few other jobs. Many of those same voices pressed Biden to approve the Willow project for the same reason.

“I am deeply frustrated by the reversal of these leases in ANWR,” said U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat, using a common shorthand for the refuge. “This administration showed that it is capable of listening to Alaskans with the approval of the Willow Project, and it is some of those same Inupiat North Slope communities who are most impacted by this decision. I will continue to advocate for them and for Alaska’s ability to explore and develop our natural resources.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation in 2017 succeeded in getting language added to a federal tax law that called for the U.S. government to hold two lease sales in the region by late 2024.

Drilling opponents on Wednesday urged Congress to repeal the leasing provision from the 2017 law and permanently make the coastal plain off limits to drilling.

“It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of today’s announcements for Arctic conservation,” said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society. “Once again, the Arctic Refuge is free of oil leases. Our climate is a bit safer and there is renewed hope for permanently protecting one of the last great wild landscapes in America.”

Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan denounced Biden’s actions as the latest volley in what he called a “war on Alaska.”

Two other leases that were issued as part of the first-of-its-kind sale for the refuge in January 2021 were previously given up by the small companies that held them amid legal wrangling and uncertainty over the drilling program.

After taking office, Biden issued an executive order calling for a temporary moratorium on activities related to the leasing program and for the Interior secretary to review the program. Haaland later in 2021 ordered a new environmental review after concluding there were “multiple legal deficiencies” underlying the Trump-era leasing program. Haaland halted activities related to the leasing program pending the new analysis.

A draft environmental review was released Wednesday.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state corporation that won seven leases in the 2021 sale, sued over the moratorium but a federal judge recently found the delay by Interior to conduct a new review was not unreasonable.

The corporation obtained the leases to preserve drilling rights in case oil companies did not come forward. Major oil companies sat out the sale, held after prominent banks had announced they would not finance Arctic oil and gas projects.

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, thanked the administration for the lease cancelation but she said in a statement, “we know that our sacred land is only temporarily safe from oil and gas development. We urge the administration and our leaders in Congress to repeal the oil and gas program and permanently protect the Arctic Refuge.”

___

An earlier version of this report misspelled Bernadette Demientieff’s last name.

Daly reported from Washington, D.C.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2023. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • 0067 PFM SaskWorks Payroll Investment Plan
    0067 PFM SaskWorks Payroll Investment Plan
  • 0066 WBPC Promo video 30 seconds
    0066 WBPC Promo video 30 seconds
  • 0065 Anova Resources field operator Oxbow
    0065 Anova Resources field operator Oxbow
  • 0064 Estevan OTS
    0064 Estevan OTS
  • 0063 Turnbull Excavating hiring crusher
    0063 Turnbull Excavating hiring crusher
  • 0062 TED_EPAC_Technology_30
    0062 TED_EPAC_Technology_30
  • 0061 SIMSA 2024 For Sask Buy Sask
    0061 SIMSA 2024 For Sask Buy Sask
  • 0060 Arizona Lithium Lease building
    0060 Arizona Lithium Lease building
  • 0059 Southeast College Heavy Equipment Operator
    0059 Southeast College Heavy Equipment Operator
  • 0058 Royal Helium Steveville opens anonymous rocket
    0058 Royal Helium Steveville opens anonymous rocket
  • 0055 Smart Power Be Smart with your Power office
    0055 Smart Power Be Smart with your Power office
  • 0053 Kingston Midstream Westspur Alameda Click Before You Dig large text
    0053 Kingston Midstream Westspur Alameda Click Before You Dig large text
  • 0052 Predator Inspections
    0052 Predator Inspections
  • 0051 JML Hiring Pumpjack assembly
    0051 JML Hiring Pumpjack assembly
  • 0049 Scotsburn Dental soft guitar
    0049 Scotsburn Dental soft guitar
  • 0046 City of Estevan This is Estevan
    0046 City of Estevan This is Estevan
  • 0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
    0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
  • 0032 IWS Summer hiring rock trailer music
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0015 Latus Viro
    0015 Latus Viro
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0002 gilliss casing services
    0002 gilliss casing services
  • 9002 Pipeline Online 30 sec EBEX
    9002 Pipeline Online 30 sec EBEX
  • 9001