On Wednesday afternoon, one of the most controversial environmental rollbacks of the Trump Administration — oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — ended in a lease sale that attracted only three bidders, including the state of Alaska, according to National Public Radio.
The move followed a debate that has spanned for over four decades regarding drilling in the coastal plain of the ANWR, which is expected to contain billions of barrels of oil. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, first created in 1960 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and later expanded by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, serves as a vital breeding ground for caribou and polar bears and habitat for over 200 other species, such as snow geese and other migratory birds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to the official sale bid recap, only three bidders bought just half of the offered lease for a total of about 553,000 acres sold; Alaska’s state-owned economic development corporation bid on nine of the parcels offered, and two small companies — Regenerate Alaska, Inc. and Knik Arm Services LLC — also each picked up a single parcel.
The lackluster sale creates a net profit of $14.4 million, with half going to the federal government and the other half to the State of Alaska. In their 2017 tax bill, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, President Trump and other Republicans in Congress had estimated that it would provide $900 million in federal revenue over the decade. The bill further called for more lease sales by 2021; however, profits sit at less than 1% of what the Congressional Budget Office predicted.
The challenges faced reflect the bitter, decades-long debate between environmentalists and politicians regarding oil drilling. They also reflect the reputational and legal repercussions of challenging activist groups, such as the local Gwich’in and Iñupiat peoples, and petition campaigns such as those hosted by Protect the Arctic; oil markets feeding off low crude prices are not inclined to pursue such a controversial and remote region.
The oil leases will take about two months to be finalized, in a process involving an antitrust review by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to NPR. However, it is expected that the Trump Administration will rush this process prior to his formal departure from office in two weeks.
If successful, further oil leasing and drilling will face stark conflicts from both environmental groups and within Congress.