Biden administration delays release of new environmental review for drilling in Alaska’s Arctic refuge

mountains and water
The Ribdon River is in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Nathaniel Herz)

The Biden administration has delayed by several months the release of a new environmental review of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The review, known as a “draft supplemental environmental impact statement,” was originally set for release by the end of November. All oil development work in the refuge is effectively stalled until the new review process concludes.

The report’s release will now be delayed until the second quarter of next year. That’s according to status reports filed late Wednesday by U.S. Department of Justice attorneys with the federal court handling three separate lawsuits over the refuge leasing program.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is overseeing the leasing program, declined to comment further.

The Arctic Refuge drilling program was a contentious piece of the Trump administration’s energy agenda, following Congress’ vote to open the area to drilling as part of the 2017 tax reform package.

Conservation groups, tribes and anti-drilling U.S. states each filed lawsuits to challenge the administration’s oil leasing process and environmental reviews. 

Following an auction in the final days of Trump’s term, the Biden administration suspended the active leases in the refuge. Then, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the new review process, saying she found “multiple legal deficiencies” in the leasing program, including insufficient environmental analysis.

The two private companies that submitted winning bids in the Trump administration’s 2021 sale have already canceled their leases. Just one leaseholder remains, the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

The 2017 tax reform package requires the federal government to hold a second lease sale by 2024.

This article was originally published in Northern Journal, a newsletter published by journalist Nathaniel Herz. Subscribe at this link.

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