BLM signs, issues leases for 9 ANWR tracts

FILE - In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an airplane flies...
FILE - In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an airplane flies over caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The refuge takes up an area nearly the size of South Carolina in Alaska's northeast corner. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP) (KTUU)
Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 12:54 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - One day before the presidential inauguration, the Bureau of Land Management has signed off and issued leases on 437,804 acres of land in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In an announcement Tuesday, BLM said the leases are for nine tracts that are estimated to hold around 8 billion barrels of oil.

The leases were awarded primarily to a state-owned corporation, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which was awarded seven tracks. Knik Arm Services, LLC and Regenerate Alaska, Inc. were both respectively awarded one tract.

The bids were unsealed earlier this month and brought in $14.4 million to be split between federal and state government.

“These leases reflect a solid commitment by both the state and industry to pursue responsible oil and gas development on the Alaska’s North Slope in light of recent assessments,” said BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett in a prepared statement. “While any further actions on the ground will require additional environmental analysis, this is a hallmark step and a clear indication that Alaska remains important to meeting the nation’s energy needs.”

Several environmental and Indigenous organizations criticized the move. Gwich’in leaders at the Gwich’in Steering Committee condemned the issuance, saying it was in violation “of their human rights and Indigenous ways of life.”

“This administration’s decision to hand sacred lands to exploiters shows its commitment to continuing its cowardly assault on the Gwich’in Nation, even in its last days,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in a prepared statement. “But it changes nothing. Our ancestors protected these lands long before colonial exploitation. Our resolve is absolute. Our way of life is not for sale or up for negotiation. This is about our survival. It’s about future generations. It’s about the climate crisis and the health of the planet.”

The Alaska Wilderness League called it an “eleventh-hour” decision from the outgoing Trump administration.

“This lease sale isn’t legitimate and won’t stand,” Alaska Wilderness league Executive Director Adama Kolton said in a prepared statement. “It was based on an illegal environmental review, faulty revenue projections and sidelined science. We look forward to President-elect Biden stopping the liquidation of this national treasure and restoring protections for its iconic wildlife, wilderness and the Indigenous peoples who depend on it.”

Both organizations cited limited support for the original lease sale, where not a single major oil company put in a bid for tracts.

Many major banking companies have also announced they would stop financing oil drilling, starting with Goldman Sachs.

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