US to review oil and gas rental program in Alaska Refuge | New policies

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By BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) – The United States Bureau of Land Management is moving forward with a new environmental review of oil and gas rentals in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska after the Secretary of the Interior said it found “multiple legal loopholes” in a previous review that provided a basis for the first lease sale on the refuge’s coastal plain earlier this year.

The federal land agency on Tuesday announced plans for a public process to determine the scope of the review and identify key issues with a rental program. The information gathered during this process will influence the development of the exam, according to a notice from the agency.

President Joe Biden, in an executive order in January, called on the Home Secretary to temporarily suspend activities related to the rental program, to review the program and “where appropriate and in accordance with applicable law, to carry out a new full analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.

Home Secretary Deb Haaland said in June that her review identified gaps in the record underlying the leases, including an environmental review that failed to “adequately analyze a reasonable range of alternatives “. She then announced plans for the new review and halted activities related to the rental program while this review was in progress.

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Richard Packer, spokesman for the Federal Lands Agency, did not respond to questions from the Associated Press or provide additional details on the agency’s plans, instead referring to a press release from the agency.

Environmentalists welcomed a new review but also called on Congress to repeal provisions in the law calling for the sale of leases.

A law passed in 2017 provided for at least two lease sales in the coastal plain, the first before December 22, 2021 and the second before December 22, 2024, the land agency said. The first lease sale took place in January, at the end of the Trump administration.

Alaska’s political leaders, including the current Republican delegation to Congress, had long pushed for opening up the coastal plain to development. Proponents of drilling saw development as a way to boost oil production, generate income, and create or maintain jobs.

Critics said the area off the Beaufort Sea provides habitat for wildlife, including caribou, polar bears and birds – and should be banned from drilling. The Indigenous Gwich’in consider the coastal plain to be sacred and have expressed concern about the impacts on a herd of caribou on which they depended for their livelihood.

US Senator from Alaska Dan Sullivan said in a statement Tuesday’s announcement was a “political stall tactic” and called on Haaland to “accept the science” in the existing environmental review.

In launching a new review, “the Biden administration is ignoring the will of Congress, the will of the Alaskans and the best interests of the Native Alaskan communities on the North Slope,” Sullivan said.

Lawyers for the borough of North Slope, the indigenous village of Kaktovik and the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation have opposed efforts by the courts to block the sale of the January lease.

The notice published on Tuesday said that the objective of the additional review planned by the Bureau of Land Management was bound by law and remained the same as the previous review: to implement the provisions of the 2017 law.

The notice states that potential alternatives to consider include those that would designate certain areas as open or closed for rental, limit surface development, block surface infrastructure in sensitive areas, and “avoid or mitigate” the impacts of petroleum activities. and gas.

Tim Woody, spokesperson for The Wilderness Society, noted via email that the law calls for another lease sale by the end of 2024. “As it is, the only way to prevent this Lease sale would require Congress to take action to change or repeal the drilling provision in this 2017 legislation, ”he said.

Critics said the first lease sale was rushed and called it bankruptcy after the big oil companies stood on the sidelines. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a crown corporation, was one of the major bidders. An email requesting comment was sent to a spokesperson for the agency on Tuesday.

Copyright 2021 The Associated press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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