Biden Administration Axes Alaska Oil and Gas Leases, Angering State Lawmakers and Native Americans

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The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it had canceled several oil and gas leases granted to an Alaskan economic development agency in early 2021.

The Department of the Interior rescinded seven 10-year leases, covering 365,775 acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, held by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. This was supported by a broad range of stakeholders including legislators and Native Alaskans. The leases were one of the final actions taken by the Trump Administration.

This latest action taken by the Department of the Interior, against Alaska and Native Alaskans who live in ANWR, shows a disregard for federal laws based on rhetoric from the campaign trail. AIDEA Executive Director Randy Ruaro said that campaign promises were not sufficient to justify the agency’s action. The Interior must provide real facts to support the change in policy.

He continued, “Interior’s action leaves AIDEA with only one option: we must go to court to defend our rights to the ANWR leasing,” he said. This time, we’ll ask the court for permission to conduct discovery, which could include deposing Biden’s messenger, [Interior] Sec. Deb Haaland, and other administration officials so that the true motives of the administration are made public.

The DOI has also proposed to prohibit oil and gas leasing on 13 million acres across the National Petroleum Reserve in North Slope Borough in Alaska. This area was set aside by Congress as a resource development area.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland stated that canceling AIDEA leases and blocking off acres in the NPR or Beaufort Sea will help the U.S. combat climate change.

Haaland stated in a press release that “climate change is warming the Arctic twice as fast than the rest of the world, and we must do all within our power to protect this fragile ecosystem.” “President Biden has delivered on the most ambitious conservation and climate agenda in history.”

She continued, “The steps that we are taking today, based on the best available science, and in recognition of the Indigenous Knowledge from the original stewards, will further this commitment, to safeguard public lands for the future generations, using the best available science, as well as the Indigenous Knowledge.”

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act required the DOI to administer and establish an oil and Gas program in ANWR. Years after the bill passed, the Bureau of Land Management released the final leasing program and held the lease sale of hundreds of thousands of acres of fossil-fuel leases in ANWR.

The DOI granted nine leases a day before the inauguration of President Biden: one to an Australian oil company 88 Energy; one to a tiny Alaskan company Knik Arm Services; and seven to AIDEA.

Alaskans are angry and frustrated about the Biden Administration’s relentless assault on their economy and ability to access their lands legally, Sen. Dan Sullivan said on Wednesday.

“This war against Alaska is devastating not only for Alaska but also for the energy security of our nation,” Sullivan stated. This unlawful cancellation of AIDEA’s ANWR leasing today brings us up to 55 executive actions and orders specifically targeting Alaska since Biden took office.

Sullivan said that Biden’s administration’s actions to target energy production in his home state would chill future investment.

The Alaska Republican said, “The Administration is staging a legal charade pretending to comply with the law which requires them to conduct lease sales without any intention of ever honoring these leases – daring investors to waste their money and time.”

“Not only does this violate the rule of laws, but it is also a grave injustice for the Inupiats of the North Slope and especially Kaktovik, the only village within ANWR. “As evidenced by the fact that this, and many other actions taken by the administration negatively impacting Alaska Native peoples, the concept of equity is being used as a hollow soundbite.”

Biden, who had campaigned against drilling in ANWR as part of the 2020 presidential race, signed an executive directive on Jan. 27 2021 to halt new oil and natural gas leasing on federal lands. This was done as part of his climate agenda. The DOI suspended its Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program for the ANWR on June 1, 2021. AIDEA’s seven leases were awarded under this program.

Biden’s actions led to the termination of leases by both 88 Energy and Knik Arm Services.

AIDEA, in November 2021, filed a suit against the DOI, arguing that the program was mandated by Congress. The Kaktovik Incupiat Corp. and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. joined AIDEA in the lawsuit.

A judge appointed by Obama dismissed the case last month. This drew the ire of Alaska’s entire delegation in Congress, including Sullivan and the Republican Governor. Mike Dunleavy, as well as leaders on Alaska’s North Slope, such as Nagruk Harcharek of the Voice of the Arctic Inupiat and Charles Lampe of the Kaktovik Inupiat Corp.

Mary Peltola, a Democrat Alaska Rep. at the time, said: “I’m frustrated by another judicial decision that goes against congressional intent.” “I strongly support Alaska’s right to explore and develop natural resources to create jobs and reduce energy prices.” “Congress set aside this area for leases in 2017 which were issued in 2021.”

Harcharek said, “This decision ignores the needs and interests of those who live in this region. It harms the self-determination of the Inupiats of the North Slope.”

AIDEA estimates that the non-wilderness area of the ANWR, where its leases lie, contains 7.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil as well as 7 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. According to the agency, oil and gas production is responsible for a significant portion of Alaska’s rural and indigenous communities on the North Slope.

Taxes on oil and gas in Alaska also provide funding to communities across the state for services such as government, schools, housing and health care, and emergency services.

Environmental groups oppose all drilling in ANWR due to concerns over greenhouse gas emissions and possible impacts on wildlife.