Trump team rushes to drill in Arctic — but will they fall flat?

This piece originally appeared on Our Daily Planet. An oil and gas lease sale is scheduled for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on January 6. (Cover photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Trump administration is rushing the process to auction off oil and gas drilling rights there before President Trump leaves office on January 20. Congress, as part of President Trump’s 2017 tax cut legislation, requires the Interior Department to auction lease rights in the Arctic Refuge by December 2021 and 2024. But since then oil prices have plummeted and many major banks say they won’t fund drilling anywhere in the Arctic. President-elect Biden vowed to block drilling and the incoming administration will have the power to issue (or not) needed permits for drilling to actually take place.

Why This Matters: A Biden spokesperson said that this move “will not deter him from fulfilling his commitment to preserving America’s national treasures and the local economies and communities they support,” according to the Wall Street Journal. A lease sale in the Arctic Refuge in January would be hard to undo, but the Biden team could raise the permitting bar so significantly that it makes the prospect really unappealing to oil companies and their backers. Meanwhile, the climate news gets worse as the Arctic continues to warm rapidly, imperiling native communities and iconic endangered speciesBiden’s icy stance on drilling should chill the bidders.

The Interior Department’s Latest Move

Yesterday the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management issued a 30-day “call for nominations” to identify the geographic areas in the refuge that the potential bidders would like to bid on, potential bidders will have 30 days to make their nominations. After that, the Bureau could hold a lease sale and experts say it is possible for the sale to take place in the final days of the Trump administration, but that will require quick work to complete the necessary legal steps in time.

Is There Interest In Bidding?

The oil and gas industry has been thirsting to drill in the refuge for 30 years, and the Trump Administration is working to get it done before the clock runs out on them. The administration is also looking to auction off oil and gas rights to more than 383,000 acres of federal land in the Lower 48 in the next two months, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. There are currently four lawsuits challenging the leasing in the Arctic Refuge, and experts say that these cases could also help a new administration put the brakes on actual drilling, even if the lease sales take place. The other big question is whether there will be much interest in the oil and gas industry in bidding on these leases given low prices for gas, the high cost of drilling in the Arctic, and the public’s opposition. In recent months, as we have reported, many large financial institutions have said they will not finance oil and gas production in the Arctic.

To Go Deeper:  Listen to this podcast, in which Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, joins Hannah Blake to discuss the bounty of beauty and life that is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

And below, watch Adam on Our Daily Planet’s “Interview of the Week.”