The only oil company to buy a lease last year in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has now canceled that lease

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with snowcapped peaks of the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (USFWS)
Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (USFWS)

One of the bidders in an oil and gas lease sale for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge last year has canceled the lease it bought, the U.S. Interior Department said.

Regenerate Alaska, a subsidiary of Australia-based 88 Energy Ltd., was one of three entities that won leases during the sale held in the waning days of the Trump administration. It was the only oil company to win a lease in the first-of-its-kind sale for the refuge’s coastal plain, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Regenerate Alaska requested the cancellation and its money back, according to a statement provided by the Interior Department’s media office that said the lease was canceled and that the “Office of Natural Resources Revenue refunded (the) full bonus bid and first year rentals.” The statement did not include the amount of the refund.

The company bid about $800,000 for the lease along the western boundary of the coastal plain. That part of the refuge is closest to existing oil field infrastructure. ExxonMobil’s Point Thomson development is to the west on state land.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management last summer said it was moving ahead with a new environmental review of oil and gas leasing in the refuge after Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said she found “multiple legal deficiencies” in a previous review that provided a basis for the lease sale.

A law passed by Congress in 2017 called for two lease sales. Another sale has not been held.

Chevron and Hilcorp previously canceled interests in older leases on a tract of land owned by an Alaska Native corporation within the refuge’s borders. The energy companies paid $10 million to end their deal with Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

The newspaper said 88 Energy did not respond to its requests for comment. The company did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press left through the company’s website.

Peter Winsor, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement to the AP called the lease cancellations the “clearest sign yet that there is zero interest out there in industrializing the wildest place left in America.”

In last year’s sale, Knik Arm Services, a real estate company, won a lease, and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority state corporation acquired seven leases. The state corporation is suing the federal government over the lease suspension.

Mark Graber, who owns Knik Arm Services, said he’s paying attention to the lawsuit.

“There’s no plan to do anything until the lawsuit is resolved and we can move forward,” he said.

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