Reprieve For Alaskan Nature

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trump administration has held the first oil lease sale in the refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thanks to all those who protested the lease sale in the first place, and to National Public Radio (USA) for providing the welcome news that the protests had their intended effect:

Major Oil Companies Take A Pass On Controversial Lease Sale In Arctic Refuge

Rep. Deb Haaland at a 2018 rally in Washington, D.C., to oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Haaland to lead the Department of the Interior. Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media

One of the Trump administration’s biggest environmental rollbacks suffered a stunning setback Wednesday, as a decades-long push to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ended with a lease sale that attracted just three bidders — one of which was the state of Alaska itself.

Alaska’s state-owned economic development corporation was the only bidder on nine of the parcels offered for lease in the northernmost swath of the refuge, known as the coastal plain. Two small companies also each picked up a single parcel.

Half of the offered leases drew no bids at all.

“They held the lease in ANWR — that is history-making. That will be recorded in the history books and people will talk about it,” said Larry Persily, a longtime observer of the oil and gas industry in Alaska . “But no one showed up.”

The sale generated a tiny fraction of the revenue it was projected to raise.

It was a striking moment in a 40-year fight over drilling in the coastal plain, an area that’s home to migrating caribou, polar bears, birds and other wildlife. It also potentially sits atop billions of barrels of oil, according to federal estimates.

But amid a global recession, low oil prices and an aggressive pressure campaign against leasing by drilling opponents, oil analysts have for months been predicting little interest in the sale.

Persily took the sale as evidence that while drilling in the refuge remains a long-held dream of some politicians, it is no longer treasured by oil companies.

“It was, in the oil industry terms, a dry hole. A bust,” he said. “They had the lease sale, the administration can feel good about it, but no one’s going to see any oil coming out of ANWR.”

Even Kara Moriarty, head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, acknowledged that the sale results weren’t as “robust” as expected. But she said the industry still supports future access to the coastal plain.

“Today’s sale reflects the brutal economic realities the oil and gas industry continues to face after the unprecedented events of 2020, coupled with ongoing regulatory uncertainty,” she said in a statement.

Read the whole story here.

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