US leases long-sought Alaska oil rights in Trump's final days

US leases long-sought Alaska oil rights in Trump's final days”

Even if it succeeds, continued oil leasing and drilling in the refuge will face headwinds, says U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., a longtime drilling opponent.

Due to concerns about a lack of participation in the sale, the board of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority held an emergency meeting two days before Christmas at which it authorized spending up to $20 million on ANWR leases.

Opening ANWR to drilling marks a win for Republican lawmakers in Alaska who have pushed for decades to open the area to oil and gas exploration to create jobs and boost state revenues, but it is unclear if the Biden administration will allow development to proceed. Though Biden has little power to revoke leases once they are issued, the incoming administration has wider discretion to block permits essential to mounting any activity on the tracts.

The state agency has said it plans to work with private companies on development of the refuge, which encompasses more than 19,000 million acres overall. With tracts ranging in size from 23,446 to 59,410 acres (9,488 to 24,042 hectares), the smallest possible winning bid is $586,150.

The sale is scheduled for January 6, but the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) started accepting bids at the end of last month.

Kate MacGregor, a deputy Interior Department secretary, said the sale marked, in part, the Trump administration's commitment to working "to fulfill the goal of US energy security for decades to come".

"We will continue to press our case that the agency approved the program unlawfully and that its decision should be overturned", Erik Grafe, an attorney with the left-wing group Earthjustice, said in a written statement.

After decades of controversy, the sale was finally authorised by the US Congress in 2017 as part of a major package of tax cuts.

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It is unclear whether the decision to make this acreage available will have a significant impact on Alaskan oil production, which peaked at two million barrels a day, 30 years ago. Alaska has said it hopes to partner with oil companies to develop the leases it won in the auction. Almost all of that came from Alaska's state-owned economic development corporation, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

Other leases could yet be open to bids.

Three court cases related to the process are still pending with the Gwich'in Steering Committee and environmental groups.

Energy market analyst Doug Matthews lives in Yellowknife and has more than 30 years experience working with Canada's oil and gas sector including a former role with the N.W.T. government.

He says this week's "pathetic" sale numbers show a changing market. "Shell, ConocoPhillips, BP, Exxonmobil, they're all pulling back because the costs are too high, the time frames are too long", Matthews said.

"I'm an oil and gas man, but I'm not a stupid one", he said.

He doubts any drilling will happen in ANWR. The remaining leases didn't attract bids or were flogged to small energy firms. "There are ample other places in the world to go and find oil".

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