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Given the high cost of oil production in the Arctic, the growing desire to reduce fossil fuel consumption, and the reputational risks of drilling in such a pristine area, there had been little public interest in the leases of large oil companies, at least in public. Under pressure from environmental organizations and indigenous groups, major banks had pledged not to finance any drilling work in the refuge.
The obvious lack of interest was evident in the sale. Only two small companies have made offers to acquire 10 year oil exploration and drilling rights on two properties totaling approximately 75,000 acres.
An Alaska state development company offering the minimum of $ 25 per acre was the only bidder on the other lots, which totaled approximately half a million acres. This led to legal issues, including whether the state was allowed to purchase leases that were not resolved.
Ms. Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, one of the groups suing the Trump administration, said the lease program and the resulting sale were the result of “a flawed and legally flawed process.”
The move comes as the Biden government stands up to criticism of recent decisions to either support or not block large oil and gas drilling projects.
Two weeks ago, Ms. Haaland called Ms. Murkowski and the rest of the Alaskan congressional delegation to tell them that she would approve a multi-billion dollar ConocoPhillips oil drilling project in the National Petroleum Reserve. The project, which Ms. Haaland rejected during her tenure in Congress, is expected to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day for 30 years, developing new fossil fuels for decades.
Also last month, Mr. Biden opposed the closure of the highly competitive Dakota Access Pipeline, which transports approximately 550,000 barrels of oil from North Dakota to Illinois every day, in court. It could also have decided to stop the pipeline while the Army Corps of Engineers conducts a new court-ordered environmental review, but chose not to intervene.
And in Wyoming, the Biden government defended 440 oil and gas leases issued by the Trump administration on state that is also the critical habitat of sage, mule and forked game.