Biden suspends oil leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Interior Department announced Tuesday the suspension of all Arctic National Wildlife Refuge leases pending an environmental analysis, shutting down one of the Trump administration’s landmark energy initiatives.

The order by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland freezes the 10-year leases on nine tracts covering more than 430,000 acres that were awarded by the Bureau of Land Management in its Jan. 6 lease sale following the August decision to open Alaska’s coastal plain to oil-and-gas exploration.

“Secretarial Order 3401 directs the Department to initiate a comprehensive environmental analysis to review the potential impacts of the Program and to address the legal deficiencies in the current leasing program’s environmental review under NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act],” said the statement.

The move is consistent with Mr. Biden’s pattern of decisions deemphasizing U.S. energy independence, which the Trump administration achieved in 2019 for the first time since 1957, in favor of reducing oil-and-gas activity in the name of combating climate change.

Democrats and environmentalists, who had accused then-President Trump of rushing the lease sale before he left office, cheered the decision.

“This is the right move by the Biden Administration,” said Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat. “We should be protecting our treasured public lands and being good stewards of the vulnerable spaces that we are lucky to have in this country, especially in the midst of a climate crisis.”

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee said the lease suspension places the nation on a path away toward greater dependency on foreign oil, noting that gas prices are at their highest in seven years.

“Democrats don’t care about high gas prices, they only care about appeasing their radical base,” said the NRCC spokesman Mike Berg in a statement. “Suspending drilling in ANWR will kill American jobs and make us more reliant on Middle Eastern oil.”

In its statement, Interior cited Mr. Biden’s day-one order directing the department to “review oil and gas activity in the Arctic refuge.”

Other high-profile energy moves by Mr. Biden include his cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline cross-border permit; his decision to rejoin the Paris climate accord, and his suspension of oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands and waters.

Whether to allow drilling in ANWR’s 1002 Area, where oil reserves are estimated at between 4.3 billion and 11.8 billion barrels, has been debated for decades, with Congress breaking the logjam in 2017 by passing legislation to oil-and-gas drilling.

Those in favor of opening ANWR, including Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the state’s GOP congressional delegation, said they had confidence in the required environmental protections and noted that the coastal plain area represents just 1.57 million acres of the 19.3-million-acre refuge.

“We are very disappointed with this decision,” said Alan Weitzner, executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which grabbed six of the nine leases, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters