AIDEA sues federal government for canceled oil and gas leases

AIDEA sues federal government for canceled oil and gas leases
Published: Oct. 19, 2023 at 12:01 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s top industrial agency filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Department of Interior for what they called “illegally” canceled oil and gas leases on protected land in the state’s northern reaches.

The lawsuit, filed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), alleges that the action the federal government took to stop seven lease agreements last month was “unlawful.”

“AIDEA’s leases were and are entirely legal, indeed they are Congressionally-mandated,” court documents explain.

The decision in early September affected seven oil and gas leases that stood on land in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, containing millions of acres of land, as well as

That decision followed a ruling in August against an AIDEA appeal that attempted to block a temporary moratorium on gas leases by the federal government.

In the lawsuit, AIDEA claims the termination violated a statute that directs the Interior Department to award leases covering at least 400,000 acres for exploration and that the agency was denied due process rights and the opportunity the defend the leases before they were canceled.

The lawsuit asks for a judgment invalidating the termination of the leases and an order directing the DOI and the Bureau of Land Management to proceed with leasing, exploration, and development of ANWR.

In a statement, the industrial agency wrote that the Biden administration showed “arbitrary and capricious disregard” for federal law when making the decision to cancel the leases.

The agency had previously warned that the decision to cancel the leases would result in thousands of jobs lost and would hurt the nation’s energy dependency and security on a global scale.

“President Biden believes his 2019 political campaign statement allows him to ignore Federal law. AIDEA is holding DOI accountable for this illegal act,” the statement said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy responded to the lawsuit Wednesday by accusing the Department of Interior of “trying to stop our ability to produce oil and gas,” alleging that the department is trying to “strip away Alaska’s ability to support itself.”

The oil and gas leases on ANWR land were held Jan. 6, 2021, in the last days of the Trump presidency, but President Joe Biden swiftly pressed pause on any future development by issuing an executive order just weeks later that directed resources to review oil and gas leasing in the refuge.

In canceling the leases in September 2023, Interior Department Sec. Deb Haaland attributed “multiple legal deficiencies in the underlying record supporting the leases.”

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s 1.5-million acre 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 land has been used by migratory birds and caribou herds for decades.